The Lady and the Unicorn
The New South Wales Art Gallery is currently hosting a stunning exhibition of the 14thC Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. These amazing works of art are on short term loan from Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris. Six tapestries in total, it is believed they tell a story of the 5 senses - sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. The sixth tapestry is a combination of all the senses. However, the presence of the unicorn in all of the scenes suggests a deeper meaning. Could these images be referring to courtly love? Is the unicorn a symbol for the Lady's lover? I like to think that the artists who put loving hours into their production were thinking about more than just the human senses and the antics of various forest creatures.
The tapestries are the works artists from the Master of Anne of Brittany. They were commissioned by a newly wealthy family from Lyon and demonstrate the type of prosperity that was flourishing at this time in French history. Master weavers spent years filling in the original designs. The colours were achieved by using natural dyes such as madder and would have made lavish wall hangings for the Lyon family.
When re-discovered in the 1800s, the tapestries were in considerably bad condition and there have been many attempts at restoration since then, the most recent in 2012. Today, according to Béatrice de Chancel-Bardelot, Curator, Musée de Cluny, musée national du Moyen Âge, there are signs of wear and of colour changes resulting from past attempts of redying. To the untrained eye - mine- there is no sign of this, one is just in awe of the majesty of the work. One can only wonder at the attention paid to the transportation of such treasures half way around the world!
To accompany the exhibition, the NSW Art Gallery has constructed a fantastic website that explains may aspects of the tapestries. There are short video that show conservation and preservation efforts, as well as video that show how the weaving was done.
The exhibition is on until 24 June 2018.