Famous Tapestry: The Lady and the Unicorn

More often than not, people who choose to hang wall tapestries at home have something else in mind other than mere ornamentation or aesthetics. For instance, people whose homes have an Oriental motif opt to get Asian tapestries to complete the look. People who like animals choose tapestries of horses, elephants, camels, or birds. These works of art are not only pleasing to the eye; their symbolism also creates an impact to anyone who visits your home.

With that in mind, a well-known series of tapestries loved by enthusiasts throughout history is the Tapestry Cycle. Also known as the Lady and the Unicorn, it refers to a series of 6 tapestries telling the story of a lady taming the mythic animal. Woven in the late 15th century, the original artworks are now found in the Musee de Cluny in Paris, France.

A Tapestry of Symbols

The effect of the Tapestry Cycle in terms of being decorative lies more on its symbolism, rather than on how it looks at first sight. This doesn’t mean, though, that the series is unattractive. On the contrary, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages in Europe.

Immediately noticeable in the Tapestry Cycle are the intricate red pattern on the background and the almost mystic countenance of the fair lady. The focus, however, is on the unicorn, a majestic creature found in myths across cultures. It is even attributed to Christ because of its purity. Its horn is touted to possess magical powers, making it highly sought after.

According to most interpretations, each wall hanging depicts one sense—sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, with the sixth and final one still subject to rigorous debate. Some say that it is the culmination of the five senses, a sixth sense in other words: love. Still, others claim that it is about love, harmony, and understanding.

The Six Tapestries

  • In the first one called Taste, the noble lady is shown taking food out of dish held by a servant girl. The unicorn is on her left side. A lion is on her right, while a bird is perched on her right hand. A monkey is also present feeding off the crumbs fallen to the ground.
  • In Hearing, the lady is playing a musical instrument. Almost all the elements are still present, except the unicorn has decided to lie down, relaxed by the sound of the instrument.
  • In Sight, the lady is holding a mirror, looking at her reflection. The unicorn is seen kneeling on the ground and trying to take a peek at itself, too.
  • In Smell, the lady is shown making a bouquet of flowers.
  • In Touch, the lady is touching the unicorn’s horn while the lion watches by, indicating that the unicorn has been tamed.
  • The final and supposedly overarching tapestry in the set is called To My Only Desire. Here, the lady is standing in front of a tent while placing jewelry inside a chest held open by a servant girl. The unicorn and the lion are on the lady’s two sides.

History and Aesthetics

The Tapestry Cycle’s reputation precedes itself. It is commonly regarded as one of the finest tapestry series made during the medieval times. Rich in history and symbolism, the series is richly woven, using the mille-fleurs (thousand flowers) style. It is for people who take into consideration history as much as appearance when choosing home decor. People aware of its powerful historic value will hold these tapestries in utmost regard.


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