The Stirling Tapestries
The Unicorn Defends ItselfThe Hunt of the Unicorn, or the Unicorn Tapestries, is a series of seven tapestries dating from between 1495 and 1505, now in The Cloisters in New York, probably woven in Brussels or Liège. The tapestries show a group of noblemen and hunters in pursuit of a unicorn. The Hunt for the Unicorn was a common theme in late medieval and renaissance works of art and literature. The tapestries were woven in wool, metallic threads, and silk. The vibrant colours, still evident today, were produced from dye plants: weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue). One of the panels, The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn, only survives in two fragments.
The tapestries are subject to scholarly debate about the iconography, the artists who designed the tapestries, and questions surrounding the sequence in which they were meant to be hung. Possibly the seven tapestries were not originally hung together.
The Unicorn is FoundIt was posited by James J. Rorimer in 1942 that they were commissioned by Anne of Brittany, to celebrate her marriage to Louis XII, King of France on 6 December 1491. The clue derived from the occurrence of A and reversed E tied with a cord in a bowknot throughout the series of tapestries. As Rorimer surmised, the letters A and E are interpreted as the first and the last letters of Anne's name cited the elisions in the medieval age. However, Margaret B. Freeman refutes this fairly convincingly in her monograph of 1976, a conclusion which is supported by Adolph S. Cavallo in his 1998 work.
Fragment of "The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn"The tapestries show pagan and Christian symbolism. The pagan themes emphasise 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 pagan myths about The Hunt of the Unicorn refer to an animal with a single horn that can only be tamed by a virgin; Christian scholars translated this into an allegory for Christ's relationship with the Virgin Mary.
The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the CastleIn the Gothic tapestry, the makers looked on biblical events as history and linked the biblical and secular narrative in the tapestry weaving. When the morality was attached importance to the medieval art, the tapestries illustrate the moralising role of narratives in allegories. The secular unicorn hunt was not only a depiction of Christian art but also transformed into an allegorical representation of the Annunciation. Another theory states that the tapestries intended to depict both the secular concerns and Christian virtue, the pursuit and taming of the unicorn not only used as religious Incarnation but also in conjunction with the secular meaning.
The Unicorn is AttackedThe tapestries were rich in floral in the background as a garden, features the "millefleurs" style, refers to a background style of a variety of small botanic, which was invented by the weavers of Gothic age, popular during the late medieval and wilted after the early Renaissance. There are more than a hundred of plants represented in the tapestries, which scatter across the green background on the panels, eighty-five of which are identified by botanists whose interior meaning in the tapestries were designed to recall the tapestries' major themes. In the unicorn series, the hunt takes place within a closed garden, the Hortus conclusus take the literal meaning of "enclosed garden", which was not only in conjunction with the Annunciation, but also a representation of the garden in the secular world.
"The Unicorn is in Captivity and No Longer Dead"The tapestries were highly probably woven in Brussels in the Flanders, where was the centre of tapestry industry in the medieval European. As a series of remarkable works of Brussels looms, the mixture of silk, metallic thread with wool gave the tapestries finer quality and brilliance of colours. The wool was widely produced in the rural areas in Brussels and easily obtained as the primary material in tapestry weaving, while the silk was costly in the weaving of tapestry, which symbolised the wealth and social status of the tapestry owner.
Fragment of The Mystic Capture of the UnicornThe seven tapestries are:
The Start of the Hunt
The Unicorn at the Fountain
The Unicorn Attacked
The Unicorn Defending Himself
The Unicorn is captured by the Virgin (two fragments)
The Unicorn Killed and Brought to the Castle
The Unicorn in Captivity
From the collection of Morgan and Rochefoucauld, the tapestries were composed of five large pieces, one small piece and two fragments.
Other sources give slightly different titles and different sequences. The factors that affect this are primarily threefold. Firstly the nature of the tapestries themselves, which exhibit differences in manufacture and size, suggesting that the first and last may be independent works or from a different series. Secondly, the nature of the classic stag hunt usually cited to Livre de la Chasse by Gaston III, Count of Foix of Foix. Thirdly the established story of the unicorn hunt, where the unicorn is made docile by a virgin, and then captured, wounded or killed. In addition, the symbolism of the story needs to be taken into account.
The Hunters Enter the WoodsProvenance
When the pictorial work serves as the core of Gothic tapestries, the "heraldic" was made up a decorative mark of ownership as well as form the subject of the tapestries. The propitious occurrence of monogram in the background which striking or inconspicuous, parallel with the animal, flora or decorative elements in the tapestry. A cypher constituted by the sewed letters F and R in the tapestry The Unicorn Attacked, which were associated with the La Rochefoucauld family, who was believed the original owner of the tapestries.
The tapestries were owned by the La Rochefoucauld family of France for several centuries, with the first mention of them showing up in the family's 1728 inventory. At that time five of the tapestries were hanging in a bedroom in the family's Château de Verteuil, Charente and two were stored in a hall adjacent to the chapel. The tapestries were highly believed woven for François, the son of Jean II de La Rochefoucauld and Marguerite de Barbezieux. And there was a possible connection between the letters A and E and the La Rochefoucauld, which are interpreted as the first and last of Antoine's name, who was the son of François, and his wife, Antoinette of Amboise.
During the French Revolution, the tapestries were looted from the château and reportedly were used to cover potatoes – a period during which they apparently sustained damage. By the end of the 1880s, they were again in the possession of the family. A visitor to the château described them as quaint 15th-century wall hangings, yet showing "incomparable freshness and grace". The same visitor records the set as consisting of seven pieces, though one was by that time in fragments and being used as bed curtains.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. bought them in 1922 for about one million US dollars. Six of the tapestries hung in Rockefeller's house until The Cloisters was built when he donated them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1938 and at the same time secured for the collection the two fragments the La Rochefauld family had retained. The set now hangs in The Cloisters which houses the museum's medieval collection.
Historic Scotland commissioned a set of seven hand-made tapestries for Stirling Castle, a recreation of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, as part of a project to furnish the castle as it was in the 16th century. It was part-funded by the Quinque Foundation of the United States.
All seven currently hang in the Queen Mary of Guise's Inner Hall in the Royal Palace at Stirling Castle.
The tapestry project was managed by West Dean College in West Sussex and work began in January 2002. The weavers worked in two teams, one based at the college, the other in a purpose-built studio in the Nether Bailey of Stirling Castle. The first three tapestries were completed in Chichester, the remainder at Stirling Castle.
Historians studying the reign of James IV believe that a similar series of "Unicorn" tapestries were part of the Scottish Royal tapestry collection. The team at West Dean Tapestry visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art to inspect the originals and researched the medieval techniques, the colour palette and materials. Traditional techniques and materials were used with mercerised cotton taking the place of silk to preserve its colour better. The wool was specially dyed at West Dean College.
James V’s lost tapestries recreated at Stirling Castle - HERE
The team behind the project searched the castle’s inventories of James’s possessions and found that the Scottish king owned more than 100 tapestries. One set of tapestries the team was particularly keen to track down was called ‘the historie of the unicorne’. After extensive research, the team found the set of seven Flemish tapestries from the 15th century in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Peter Buchanan, project manager for Historic Scotland, said: “Whilst we may never know what happened to the original tapestries, the fact that we now have these fantastic recreations, with the assistance of the Met in New York and through the generosity of our donors, will provide visitors to the castle now and for generations to come with a real insight into how the palace may have been at the time of James V.”
This is not the first project undertaken to recreate aspects of Stirling Castle. In 2011 Historic Scotland completed a £12 million project to reconstruct the oak medallions that decorated the ceilings of the castle during James V’s reign.