For this month’s picture study, we’re doing something a bit different. I thought it might be fun to take a close look at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s famous Unicorn Tapestries. These spectacular late-fifteenth-century tapestries are on view at The Cloisters, the Met’s uptown collection of medieval European artwork. Designed in Paris and woven in Brussels and the Netherlands, the seven large wall hangings vividly depict the hunting of a white unicorn in a richly flowered wood. The gorgeous weavings are rich in symbolism and drama—there are at least three layers of meaning to explore here. In addition to the excitement of the hunt, complete with lanky greyhounds, odd-looking lions, and a smiling stag, there are the symbolic interpretations of the story:
“They can also be explained as a tale of courtly love, presenting the search and eventual capture of the lover-bridegroom by his adored lady. And there is the Christian interpretation as well, the symbolic retelling of Christ’s suffering, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.”
The Met’s Unicorn Tapestries website is loaded with information and pictures. If, like my family, you can’t venture to NYC to view these incredible weavings in person, a long exploration of the website will be the next best thing.
• New Yorker article, “Capturing the Unicorn: How Two Mathematicians Came to the Aid of the Met.”
• Another set of tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn, on display at the Musée National du Moyen Âge in Paris.
• Wikipedia entry on unicorns
• The Cloisters—field trip info (Go ahead, make us jealous!)
Unicorns in children’s literature:
The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
The Unicorn Treasury : Stories, Poems, and Unicorn Lore by Bruce Coville