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The Unicorn Is Found, ca. 1495–1505
Southern Netherlands
Wool warp; wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts; 12 ft 1 in. x 12 ft. 5 in. (368 x 379 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.2)


The medieval bestiary was composed of stories in which the supposed characteristics of real and imaginary animals, plants, and stones served as Christian allegories for the purpose of moral and religious instruction. Its ancestor was a Greek work called the Physiologus (in Greek, physis means nature and logos means word or reason), which was written early in the Christian era, probably in Alexandria, Egypt, and circulated before the fourth century A.D. In an attempt to show the nature of God through correspondences between nature and its heavenly archetype, the author of the Physiologus mined oral tradition, classical mythology, the Scriptures, works by Aristotle, Pliny, and other natural historians. Between the fourth and sixth centuries, the first Latin translations of the Greek text appeared, and in the fifth century it was translated into Ethiopian, Syriac, and Armenian. By the end of the twelfth century, the Latin work had grown into as many as 150 chapters (more than three times the number of the earlier text), with separate classifications for beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish and sometimes had passages from the church fathers on trees, the creation, the ages of man, and the nature of man. Frequently illustrated, this work was now called the Bestiary. According to the expert M. R. James, in twelfth- and thirteenth-century England, the Bestiary ranked with the Psalter and the Apocalypse as one of the leading picture books.

Many creatures in the Unicorn Tapestries are depicted for their symbolic meanings. In medieval thought, they were associated with the Life of Christ and also marriage.

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