One of the most famous medieval artworks has to be the Unicorn Tapestries, especially the Capture of the Unicorn. Luckily The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the tapestries together to display in their lovely and quaint Met Cloisters (dedicated to medieval art). Because of the low lighting in the room, my pictures did not come out super awesome, so I’m supplementing with photos from The Met.
There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the story of the hunt and capture of this mythical creature. Ideas abound that the unicorn is a symbol for the purity of Christ and the spear going through the unicorn is supposed to symbolize the lance through Christ’s side while on the cross. Perhaps, the unicorn is a symbol of virginal purity (since only a virgin would be able to attract a unicorn) so maybe this is commemorating a marriage?
Something that is also intriguing about this piece the enigmatic letters of “A & E” hidden throughout the tapestries. See the image above and below for the “A & E” tied to the center tree. Is it the initials of the person who commissioned the piece? The monogram of the wedded couple? Does it stand for Adam and Eve?
On total there are 7 tapestries as part of the series that each measure a whopping 12 by 14 feet! The room is not very large and really makes you feel like you are within the story. Another thing that is incredible about seeing these pieces in person is the amount of detail in the tapestry, especially in the background with the flora and fauna. They have catalogued over 100 species of plants in these tapestries. And you can easily see from my picture above that he pieces are covered in individual plants! An art historical and horticultural masterpiece!
Adding to their fame, the tapestry series has also influence film, most notably Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and appeared in the Gryffindor Tower in Harry Potter.
Information was adapted from the article “Why the Mystery of the Met’s Unicorn Tapestry Remains Unsolved” by Tiffany Jow on Artsy.
Read more: “Animation History: Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty'” on Lauren Magaret, “Capital and Credibility in Sleeping Beauty: Eyvind Earle and the Disney Pre-Renaissance” on Beams on Film & “Art in Disney: Sleeping Beauty” on Art Docent Program