Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object
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The Hunters Enter the Woods (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

Date:
1495–1505
Culture:
South Netherlandish
Medium:
Wool warp, wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts
Dimensions:
Overall: 145 x 124in. (368.3 x 315cm)
Classification:
Textiles-Tapestries
Credit Line:
Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937
Accession Number:
37.80.1
On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 17
This tapestry is one of seven hangings at The Cloisters that depict the hunt of the unicorn, a mythical creature first mentioned by the Greek physician Ctesias in the fourth century B.C. In the Middle Ages the animal was best known for its supposed invincibility and for the therapeutic property of its horn. So strong was the belief in the horn's miraculous cures that by the twelfth century the tusks of male narwhals, a small whale native to the Arctic, came to be regarded as "unicorn horns."

The Unicorn Tapestries, as the group of seven is known, were probably designed in Paris but woven in Brussels. They are first documented in 1680, when they hung in the Paris home of François VI de La Rochefoucauld. By 1728 five of them decorated a bedroom at the family's château in Verteuil, in western France. The tapestries were looted during the French Revolution but were recovered in the 1850s; by 1856 they had been restored and rehung in the château's salon. No documentation sheds light on the early history of the tapestries, including either their commission or sequence of hanging. Striking differences in dimension and composition have prompted scholars to question whether the hangings constitute one set or are, in fact, from multiple sets.

The Hunters Enter the Woods, like The Unicorn in Captivity, is set against a millefleurs background: a field of dark green spangled with blossoming trees and flowers. Of the 101 species of plants represented, 85 have been identified, including the prominent cherry tree behind the hunters and lush date palm in front of the sniffing hound. The cipher "AE" that is woven into each of the Unicorn Tapestries—and repeated here five times—alludes to their original owners, who remain unknown.
Inscription: (on each corner and center): AE
(on dog collar; twice): AE
(on dog collar bearing arms; twice): A

Marking: Arms (on dog collar on right): Quarterly, 1 and 4, barry of six or and azure, the first two bars debruised by three roses gules, seeded proper; 2 and 3, or, three escutcheons gules.
Comtes de La Rochefoucauld, France ; François VI de La Rochefoucauld, Paris (in 1680) ; François VIII de La Rochefoucauld, château de Verteuil, Charente (in 1728) ; Château de Verteuil, Charente (said to have been looted in 1793) ; Comtes de La Rochefoucauld, château de Verteuil, Charente (in 1856) ; Comte Aimery de La Rochefoucauld, château de Verteuil, Charente (until 1923) ; Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr.(in 1923 through Edouard Larcade–until 1937)
Breck, Joseph. "The Tapestry Exhibition: Part I." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, o.s., 23, no. 6 (June 1928). pp. 147–50.

Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of French Gothic Tapestries. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1928. no. 4–9, pp. 18–21.

Rorimer, James J. "New Acquisitions for the Cloisters." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 33, no.5, Part 2 (May 1938). pp. 14-17.

Stoddard, Whitney S. Monastery and Cathedral in France: Medieval Architecture, Sculpture, Stained Glass, Manuscripts, the Art of the Church Treasuries. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1966. pp. 357–59.

Coffinet, Julien. Arachné ou L'art de la tapisserie. Paris: Bibliothèque des arts, 1971. pp. 201–203, 205.

Freeman, Margaret B. "The Unicorn Tapestries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 32, no. 1 (1973-1974). pp. 178-183.

Souchal, Geneviève, ed. Chefs-d'œuvre de la tapisserie du XIVe au XVIe siècle. Paris: Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 1973. no. 18–24, pp. 76–86.

Souchal, Geneviève, ed. Masterpieces of Tapestry from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974. no. 18–24, pp. 69–79.

Freeman, Margaret. The Unicorn Tapestries. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976. no. 1, discussed and ill. thoughout.

Young, Bonnie. A Walk Through The Cloisters. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979. pp. 65-75.

Crockett, Lawrence J. "The Identification of a Plant in the Unicorn Tapestries." Metropolitan Museum Journal 17 (1982). pp. 15-22, fig. 1, 3, 10.

Nickel, Helmut. "About the Sequence of the Tapestries in The Hunt of the Unicorn and The Lady with the Unicorn." Metropolitan Museum Journal 17 (1982). pp. 9-14, fig. 1.

Cavallo, Adolfo S. Medieval Tapestries in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 20, pp. 297-327.

Cavallo, Adolph S. The Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998. no. 1.

Campbell, Thomas P., ed. Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. pp. 70–79.

Barnet, Peter, and Nancy Y. Wu. The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. no. 117, pp. 160–61, 199.

Colburn, Kathrin. "Three Fragments of the Mystic Capture of the Unicorn Tapestry." Metropolitan Museum Journal 45 (2010). pp. 97-106, fig. 2.

Barnet, Peter, and Nancy Y. Wu. The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture. 75th Anniversary ed. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 168–69.

Taburet-Delahaye, Elisabeth, ed. La Dame à la licorne et l'art européen autour de 1500 dans les collections du musée de Cluny, Paris. Paris (?): Musée National du Moyen Âge - Thermes et Hôtel de Cluny, 2013. p. 67, fig. 1.



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