The Lady and the Unicorn

Origin of this work…

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 six tapestries are called as follows:

  • Le Goût (Taste)
  • L'Odorat (Smell)
    Version française
  • L'Ouïe (Hearing)
  • Le Toucher (Touch)
  • La Vue (Sight)
  • A Mon Seul Désir (My Only Desire)

This hanging, a mystery…

Despite of the strong renown and the admiration which this hanging raised up, many mysteries remain on. The lack of archives of the era is the main cause. Thus, the date and the place of the weaving are approximates. Several assumptions exist, but none of them is proven. In the same way, the true identity of the sleeping partner is also unknown. He should be a member of the family "le Viste", a upper-class family from Lyon at that time, as the blazons indicate on the hanging.

  A mon seul désir

 

Le goût  

Significance of the scenes...

Many specialists and historians have studied all the scenes of this hanging... As before, several interpretations exist. However, they are unanimous on the significance of the first five tapestries: it is the representation of the five senses. By these following signs, here is the explanation of the senses.
Taste : the Lady takes a confectionery in a dish which is held by her maidservant. The Taste is also represented by the monkey, in the bottom, which brings a confectionery to its mouth.
Smell : the Lady weaves a necklace with scented flowers.

 

Hearing : The Lady plays the organ while her maidservant actuates the bellows.
Touch : The Lady delicately takes the Unicorn's horn with her left hand.
Sight : The Lady holds a mirror in which the head of the unicorn is reflected.

The significance of the last tapestry remains more mysterious. Several interpretations were thus made. One of them is particularly interesting. " To My Only Desire ", such is the name allotted to this marvellous tapestry. In this scene, the Lady puts in the jewel-case her collar which she was wearing on the other tapestries. The most often quoted significance is the refusal of temptation, and the renunciation of the five senses (previously stated).

  La vue

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