The beautiful Cloisters, a wing of New York’s Metropolitan Museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary with an appropriate special exhibit: Search for the Unicorn from now until August 18, 2013. In 1938, John D. Rockefeller gave the unicorn tapestries that became the centerpiece of the Cloister’s collection. This exhibit unites the tapestries with other works of art from the Metropolitan’s main collection, other museums, and private collections.
The tapestries tell the tale of a unicorn hunt. They were woven in the Netherlands in the late 15th century. They first showed up in an inventory of the belongings of French nobleman François VI de la Rochefoucauld in 1680. Fifty years later, they were in possession of his grandson in his château in Verteuil, but they weren’t in very good condition. Five were “half worn out” and the other two were “torn in various places” and relegated to a storage room, according to his inventory. They’re so beautifully restored that you’d never know that they were in shreds at one point.
The tapestries hold mysteries that have never been unraveled. What do the entwined letters A and E in the corner of each panel refer to? What family is honored in the tiny coat of arms on the collar of one of the dogs? While the initials indicate that all seven panels belonged to one patron, they don’t read as one unified story. The patrons may have collected more than one version of the story, like someone who owns a DVD of The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford and also the new version with Leonardo DiCaprio.
If you’ve never been to The Cloisters, now is a great time to go. The setting will have you believing that you are in medieval Europe. The most famous series of unicorn tapestries in France is at the Cluny museum in Paris. This grouping is known as La Dame à la licorne (lah dam ah lah leekorn), or “The Lady and the Unicorn.” Our fascination with this beautiful mythical creature dates back over five hundred years. If the presence of unicorn tapestries in the Gryffindor Common Room in the Harry Potter movies is any indication, we’re not done with them yet.
- My Personal Unicorn Tapestry (danceswithwool.wordpress.com)
- Quest for the Beautiful Mythical Unicorn Art Exhibit! (ilovebedouin.wordpress.com)
- Unicorns Travel From Paris to Japan (rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com)