The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

South Netherlandish
Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts
Overall: 145 x 153in. (368.3 x 388.6cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Two episodes of the hunt narrative are brought together in this hanging. At left, two hunters drive their lances into the neck and chest of the unicorn, as a third delivers the coup de grâce from the back. It has been suggested that the doomed unicorn is an allegory for Christ dying on the Cross; the large holly tree (often a symbol of the Passion) rising from behind his head seems to reinforce this association. In the other episode, at right, a lord and a lady receive the body of the unicorn in front of their castle. They are surrounded by their attendants, with more curious onlookers peering through windows of the turret behind them. The dead animal is slung on the back of a horse, his horn already cut off but still entangled in thorny oak branches—probably symbolizing the Crown of Thorns. The rosary in the hand of the lady and the three other women standing behind the lord encourage a deeper reading of the scene, perhaps as a symbolic Deposition by the grieving Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and the Holy Women.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: (center and three corners): AE

  • Provenance

    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 (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)

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History