The Unicorn Tapestries

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“The Unicorn Tapestries”


Gabrielle Cuebas

HUA 101
The Cloisters


Images of the unicorn have been brought to us from many corners of the world. This white horse, with a single spiraling horn at the center of it forehead, is usually quite beautiful in the art that it is shown in. Its origin varies from Europe to Asia, among other locations. There are several meanings as to the unicorns’ symbolism. People generally believe that unicorns are meant to bring good fortune. The Unicorn Tapestries, at The Cloisters museum, are from the Medieval period. They were brought to the museum from the southern region of the Netherlands.

These tapestries had a unique beauty that caught my eye. I always enjoyed viewing art with mystical creatures, unicorns being my favorite. There were seven tapestries in all. Each had a different story to tell, but they were all in sequence. The basic summary of the story is that the humans are on the hunt for the unicorn. Due to catholic beliefs, the unicorn was considered to be a symbol of Christ.” Many speculated that the unicorn inhabited the Garden of Eden.”1 The unicorn’s horn was believed to have had holy powers that cured poison. As shown in picture A, the humans are watching the unicorn as it cures the poison from the fountain water. Although the humans were determined to capture this unicorn for its powers, they also feared it. Not only is the unicorn known to be difficult to catch, it is very strong. It is almost impossible for humans to capture the unicorn. “According to tradition, the unicorn can only be trapped by a virginal maiden,”2 who is usually the Virgin Mary.

The Unicorn tapestries are made of wool warp, wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts, which is woven fabric covered in gold. They are extremely detailed in every aspect. The humans in the picture are wearing all sorts of outfits in different styles and colors. My favorite part of the art, besides the unicorn, is the detail in the foliage in every background. There are such a great variety of flowers, especially shown in picture B. The images of the people were pretty ideal. I would not consider them to be portraits because the people all had similar features and facial expressions. The colors in the clothing and the foliage complement each other, although, I assume due to age of the tapestries, the colors are a bit dull. The tapestries are definitely representational art because the images all depict things of the natural world, except for the mysterious unicorn of course.

What I like most about the tapestries is how different each one is, yet they tell a story in sequence. There is not much information about the creator of these tapestries, but it seems he or she could have been a writer, but just expressed their thought better through art, and they did a nice job at it. Not only did I enjoy the craftsmanship, but the images struck some emotion. One of the tapestries displayed the capture of the unicorn, and eventually its death. Since I am such a serious animal lover I was not happy with the idea of trapping and killing the unicorn, but I still appreciated the art. I always think it is important to express some kind of emotion or idea through artwork, or else it would have no purpose. “Medieval tapestries were valued for their storytelling and beauty.”3 This is what makes the tapestries art for communication, because there is an interesting story to tell in each one.

Photos


A)

B)



1Notes

 http://members.shaw.ca/unicornhaven/UnicornHistory.html

2 http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/medny/albertini2.html

3 http://scotland-travel.suite101.com/article.cfm/hunt_of_the_unicorn_tapestries_stirling_castle




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