here are two famous ancient unicorn-nspired tapestry series in existence. The first of these is 'The Hunt of the Unicorn', often referred to as the Unicorn Tapestries, is a series of seven tapestries dating from 1495–1505. The tapestries show a group of noblemen and hunters in pursuit of a unicorn. It is believed to have come from a culture in the Southern Netherlands.
The Unicorn Tapestries were documented as having been displayed as a group. Surely they were collected and exhibited together because together they illustrate the pursuit of the elusive unicorn so completely and in such astonishing detail, despite the likelihood that the seven individual hangings may come from two or more sets of tapestries. While its sacred and secular symbolism may not be as familiar to us today, we are still enchanted by the unicorn and its lore.
Much of the tapestries' history is disputed and there are many theories about their original purpose and meaning, including suggestions that the seven tapestries were not originally hung together. However it seems likely that they were commissioned by Anne of Brittany to celebrate her marriage to Charles VIII, King of France. Because of the differences in style of some of the tapestries, it is believed that the tapestries have been created as part of three different sets, The Three Hunts of the Unicorn. Tapestries #1 and #7 are part of The Hunt of the Unicorn as a Lover, tapestry #5 is part of The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn and tapestries 2, 3, 4, and 6 are part of The Hunt of the Unicorn as an Allegory of The Passion. It is also believed that there could be other tapestries that are missing, particularly from the first two hunt series.
The two major interpretations of the tapestries hinge on pagan and Christian symbolism. The pagan interpretation focuses on the medieval lore of beguiled lovers, whereas Christian writings interpret the unicorn and its death as the Passion of Christ.
The unicorn has long been identified as a symbol of Christ by Christian writers, allowing the traditionally pagan symbolism of the unicorn to become acceptable within religious doctrine. The original myths surrounding The Hunt of the Unicorn refer to a beast with one horn that can only be tamed by a virgin maiden; subsequently, Christian scholars translated this into an allegory for Christ's relationship with the Virgin Mary.
The tapestries were owned by the La Rochefoucauld family of France for several centuries. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. bought them in 1922 for about one million United States dollars and donated them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1937. They now hang in The Cloisters which houses the museum's medieval collection.
eginning in 1998, the tapestries were cleaned and restored. In the process, the linen backing was removed, the tapestries were bathed in water, and it was discovered that the colors on the back were in even better condition than those on the front (which are also quite vivid). A series of high resolution digital photographs were taken of both sides using a customized scanning rig designed by museum consultant Scott Geffert of Center for Digital Imaging Inc. and the museum's photography staff that suspended a Leica S1Pro linear array scan camera and lighting over the delicate textile.
The front and back of the tapestries were photographed in approximately three foot square segments. The largest tapestry required up to 24 individual 5000X5000 pixel images. Merging the massive data stored in these photos required the efforts of two famous mathematicians, the Chudnovsky brothers.Since January 2002, the Tapestry Studio at West Dean College has been working on a recreation of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries. The tapestries will be displayed in the Queen's Presence Chamber at Stirling Castle, part of a project to furnish the castle as it would have been in the 16th century. Historians studying the reign of James IV believe that a similar series of 'Unicorn' tapestries were part of the royal collection. The team at West Dean Tapestry visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York to inspect the originals and researched into medieval techniques, the colour palette and materials. This project is due for completion in 2014. The weavers are working both at West Dean, West Sussex and at Stirling Castle.
he second series is The Lady and the Unicorn (French: La Dame à la licorne) the modern title given to a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders of wool and silk, from designs ("cartoons") drawn in Paris in the late fifteenth century, The suite is often considered one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages in Europe.
This famous hanging "the Lady and the Unicorn" was woven towards 1500, in the Flandres, cradle of the tapestries in the Middle-Age. This entirety, composed of six tapestries, was discovered in 1841, following the sale of the castle of Boussac where these hangings were. Since 1882, they have been preserved at the Museum of the Middle-Age (Museum of Cluny, Paris), in a large round room.
The imposing size of the tapestries, approximately 3,5x3,5m, make this hanging particularly imposing and attractive. These tapestries were woven with silk and wool threads, with more than 5 warp threads per centimetre.
The series now hangs in the Musée National du Moyen Age (aka Cluny Museum) in Paris.The National Museum of the Middle Ages is one of the places in France which conserves the most magnificent examples of ancient textile artifacts. This remarkable collection reflects the different techniques of fabrication and decoration and large production centres from Antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages. Oriental fabrics from Iran, Egypt or the Byzantine Empire are displayed alongside western creations (Italy, Spain, England). The endowment is so rich that only a part of it can be displayed, due to conservation and space restrictions.