Monday, 3 August 2009

The lady and the unicorn...


The six tapestries made in the course of the story hang in the Musée National du Moyen Age (aka Cluny Museum) in Paris.Among other things, the tapestries represent the five senses. Each tapestry is usually referred to by the sense it depicts (Taste, Touch, Smell, Sound, Sight), with the sixth tapestry – which either introduces or concludes the series –
known as À Mon Seul Désir (To My One Desire)

for the words woven into it.

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.

Little is known about the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.
They were made for the Le Viste family (whose coat of arms appears throughout),
but it is not certain for which member.
The most convincing theory is that they were made for Jean Le Viste, who held the right to display the family coat of arms from 1457 until his death in 1500.
From the style of the ladies’ clothes and the millefleurs background, scholars think the tapestries were made probably around the end of the 15th century, possibly to commemorate Jean Le Viste’s promotion in Court in 1489.
An earlier theory that they were made as a wedding present for a Le Viste daughter or wife has been discounted. Form dictated that the groom’s coat of arms would have been displayed in the tapestries alongside the 16[!] Le Viste coats of arms.
The millefleurs in the tapestries were a specialty of weaving workshops in Flanders, particularly Bruges and Brussels; the tapestries were likely made there. The specific weavers and artist who designed them are unknown.After Jean Le Viste’s death the tapestries would have passed to his eldest daughter, Claude. She died without having children, and her estate would have been divided between her second husband’s heirs and another branch of the Le Viste family. It is believed the tapestries remained with the Le Vistes, passing to a cousin of Claude’s, and then through various bequests to Jeanne de la Roche Aymon. In 1660 she moved to her husband’s chateau at Boussac in central France, and there the tapestries remained.
They were “rediscovered” in poor condition at Boussac in 1841 by Prosper Mérimée, a government inspector of historical monuments, who recommended that the French government buy them. The writer Georges Sand also saw them in the 1840s and began to write about them, mentioning them in her journal as well as in the novel Jeanne (1844). The government purchased them in 1882 and gave them to the Cluny Museum (now the Musée National du Moyen Age) in Paris, where they now hang in a specially designed oval room. They have been restored several times since the 19th century, and were cleaned in 1975 to restore their brilliant colors.

In medieval art everything stood for something else.
A dog was never just a dog, a lily never just a lily.
There was an elaborate symbolic code familiar to all, in which animals and plants each contained different moral messages for humans, often based on physical traits or behavior.

Unicorn - single horn; savage; loyal - Christ; pure and invincible (Scotland)

Lion - King of the beasts; strong - courageous, strong, faithful (England)

Lamb - pure; innocent; blameless - Christ
love & light

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