The Lady and the Unicorn

The Lady and the Unicorn is the modern title given to a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders from wool and silk, from designs drawn in Paris ca 1500. The tapestries were created in the style of mille-fleurs (meaning: “thousand flowers”).

The tapestries supposed sponsor was Antoine II Le Viste (1470-1534), a descendant of the younger branch of the Le Viste family who was quintessential within the court of Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I.

  • The tapestries ‘meaning’ is obscure, but has been interpreted as representing ‘love or understanding’.
  • Each of the six tapestries depicts a noble lady with a unicorn on her left and a lion on her right; and some include a monkey within its scene.
  • Nearly all of the six tapestries include the five sensors: Taste, Hearing, Sight, Smell, and Touch. The sixth displays the words “À mon seul désir“.

The tapestries were rediscovered in 1841 at the Boussac Castle, where they were assessed for damage and levels of dampness and mold. By 1863 they were restored and transferred to the Musée de Cluny (Musée du Moyen-Âge), in Paris.

In varied music, movie and literature genre:

  • The Lady and the Unicorn is the title of English folk guitarist John Renbourn’s 1970 album, featuring early music arrangements. The album cover includes a depiction from the tapestry “À Mon Seul Désir”.
  • The tapestries are also depicted in Tracy Chevalier’s novel ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’.
  • Hanging examples of the Unicorn tapestries are displayed on the walls of the Gryffindor Common Room in the Harry Potter series of films.

I leave you with this well known piece:
The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town

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