the lady and the unicorn tapestries
he Lady and the Unicorn (French: La Dame à la licorne) is 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.
The tapestries can be interpreted several ways – as a virgin seducing a unicorn, as a woman renouncing the physical world of the senses for the spiritual world, aas the Virgin Mary with Christ. The first is the most popular interpretation, and refers to the old belief that the unicorn is so wild it cannot be tamed, except by a virgin. If she sits in the woods, the unicorn will come and lay its head in her lap.
ive of the tapestries are commonly interpreted as depicting the five senses - taste, hearing, sight, smell, and touch. The sixth displays the words "À mon seul désir" (meaning: "to my only desire"), whose meaning is obscure, but has been interpreted as representing love or understanding.
Each of the six tapestries depicts a noble lady with the unicorn on her left and a lion on her right; some include a monkey in the scene. The pennants, as well as the armor of the Unicorn and Lion in the tapestry bear the arms of the sponsor, Jean Le Viste, a powerful nobleman in the court of King Charles VII.
The tapestries are created in the style of mille-fleurs (meaning: "thousand flowers").
The tapestries were rediscovered in 1841 by Prosper Mérimée in Boussac castle (at the time, the subprefect of the Creuse) where they had been suffering damage from their storage conditions. Novelist George Sand brought public attention to the tapestries in her works at the time. The cycle is currently held in the Musée de Cluny (Musée du Moyen-Âge), Paris (France), where it has resided since 1882.
These tapestries are also the central theme of the novels "The Lady and the Unicorn" by Tracy Chevalier, and "The Seventh Unicorn" by Kelly Jones. Recently two 'historical novels' of Pith Schure have seen the light under the title "La Licorne and .....". Together with the final one - expected to be published in 2009 - those will make up a 'trilogy' on the subject.
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are among the most beautiful art treasures of the world. They were woven c.1500, probably in the workshops of Flanders, in the medieval style of mille fleurs, a "thousand flowers." Since 1882 the tapestries have been housed in Paris in the once medieval cloister, the Musée de Cluny. The tapestries represent the six senses — Hearing, Sight, Touch, Smell, Taste, and Love.
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 six tapestries are called as follows: