Unicorn Tapest Hardcover – Oct 1998
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This unicorn tapestries are one of the most popular attractions at The Cloisters, the medieval branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Written by a world authority on medieval textiles, this beautifully illustrated book traces the origins of the seven enigmatic tapestries as well as the possible interpretations of their symbolism and presents details of each imaginatively woven scene.
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These now-famous works of art apparently belonged to François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld, in the late 1600s. They were taken from his chateau and later used by peasants to protect their food from frosts. Fortunately, they were recovered in 1850 and later (1922) purchased by John D. Rockefeller who gave them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I was fortunate enough to see them last October. My fiancé and I made the trek from Times Square, via subway, to Fort Tryon Park, where The Cloisters are peacefully nestled. We crawled from the sub-terrain and entered the lush, fragrant park. It's a bit of a walk up to the museum, but the garden atmosphere astonished us. We couldn't believe we were in NY! The Cloisters were quiet and uncrowded in the morning. There's a center court complete with bubbling fountains and plants from the Medieval era that is open to the sky. We crossed this courtyard and entered into the small room where the tapestries occupy their personal space. I will never forget the experience. They took my breath away.
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Medieval Tapestries in The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Needlework (Smithsonian Illustrated Library of Antiques)
The Unicorn tapestries were first discussed in print in 1888 by Xavier Barbier de Montault entitled The Lady and the Unicorn about the set of tapestries now gracing the Musée de Cluny in Paris. Barbier compared them to the Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries owned by the La Rochefoucauld family, now housed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both sets have been exhaustively studied and they were exhibited together at the Cluny museum 40 years ago. Both sets were constructed during the 10-year period between 1495 and 1505. The ins and outs of their construction, provenance and symbolism are discussed at great length in a fascinating and readable manner. This book cites an earlier work:
The Unicorn Tapestries
by Margaret B. Freeman which I also own and have reviewed. I highly recommend your reading both books.
It always struck me as sad, the idea of medieval princes calling for their men to hunt down and kill this beautiful mythological beast, the subject of lore for eons. Look at their casual faces shown on the cover of the book, their cavalier attitude in killing such lovely creature. When you learn about the symbolism of Christ and compare the stance of the Lady with the Unicorn, you start to understand where they were coming from in 1500 A.D. As someone who loves textiles, I'm astonished at the handiwork that went into these masterpieces. The world would be a worse place if these tapestries had not survived these five centuries.
I highly recommend this book for both the clarity of text and gorgeous photos. And I learned something new: the flora of the tapestries is displayed in painstaking detail at the back of the book, with line drawings showing every plant and flower depicted. Who knew that about 100 different varieties had been woven into these tapestries?
I recommend this to anyone who enjoys learning more about some of the finer things in life that have survived the test of time--these tapestries are truly gems!
I've been back a few times over the years to see these priceless treasures, and each time, they have induced silent awe.
Margaret Freeman's volume provides a great record of the collection, including fine pictorial details, and scholarly (but engrossing) explanations of the tapestry themes and motifs.
This is an art book you'll be happy to have.
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