Ever since I watch the movie The Last Unicorn when I was a child, I’ve always loved these mythical creatures. The movie starts with an animation of a famous series of medieval tapestries called the Hunt of the Unicorn. That’s why I knew I couldn’t miss seeing the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries, a very similar work, dating from around the same time and place, that I found out were displayed at the Musée de Cluny, the Middle-Ages National Museum in Paris.
The Lady and the Unicorn are a collection of six wool and silk tapestries that were discovered in Boussac Castle, France in 1841. It’s believed that they were made during the earlier 16th century in Flanders, and though some researchers have several theories, no one knows who made them or who was the sponsor.
The Musée Cluny took care of their restoration, as they were found cover in mold and dust. They tried to use the most similar techniques of the time they were made to undo the damage. One of the most difficult tasks was obtaining the red dye of the background without any synthetic methods, which makes the original work even more impressive and expensive, as it’s a color very hard to obtain from nature.
All of the tapestries have the Lady in the center, with the lion always to her left and the unicorn on her right. In the Middle-Ages, there was no doubt that unicorns weren’t real, and were considered along with lions, exotic creatures from foreign lands. Even Marco Polo talks about them in his traveling narrations. They were also seen as such pure beings, only a virgin could tame them; and so proud, they’d rather die in battle than be taken into captivity.
As there’s no record of the producer of these works of art, there’s no way to know what’s going on in the story depicted in them. Most art historians interpret them as the five different senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. The most intriguing one for everyone is the sixth tapestry, which people has given it the name of “The Sixth Sense,” and think it depicts love or purity. It has the words “À mon seul désir” written on the top of the Lady’s tent, which can be translated in different ways and make the interpretation even more challenging.