Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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The Unicorn Defends Itself (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

Date:
1495–1505
Culture:
South Netherlandish
Medium:
Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts
Dimensions:
Overall: 145 x 158 in. (368.3 x 401.3cm)
Classification:
Textiles-Tapestries
Credit Line:
Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937
Accession Number:
37.80.4
On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 17
Here the injured unicorn is being held at bay by three hunters ready to pierce him with their lances. The furious animal reacts with a gruesome attack on a greyhound before him, almost tearing the dog's body apart. The horn-blowing hunter at the lower left wears a scabbard with the inscription AVE REGINA C[OELI] (Hail, Queen of the Heavens). The huntsmen and other figures are garbed in the fashions of about the turn of the sixteenth century, including round-toed shoes and fitted bodices, and their headdresses and hairstyles also reflect contemporary tastes. The mastery of the weavers is evident in the convincing representation of different materials and textures in the costumes, such as brocade, velvet, leather, and fur.

In order to make the tapestries, plain wool yarns (the warp) were stretched between two beams of a large loom; a bobbin then brought dyed and metallic threads (the wefts) over and under the warp threads to create the design. Chemical analyses reveal that the dye pigments used in the Unicorn Tapestries came from such plants as weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue), all of which are grown in the Bonnefont Cloister garden. With the aid of mordants, substances that help fix the dyes to fabric, these three primary colors were blended to achieve a dazzling spectrum of hues strategically highlighted by the addition of metallic threads.
#66. The Unicorn Defends Itself (from the Unicorn Tapestries)
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Inscription: (center and on each corner): AE
(on dog's collar, left): OFANGRE
(on scabbard hanging from man, left): AVE.REGINA.C[OELORUM]
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)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Tapestry from the 14th to the 16th century," February 7, 1974–April 19, 1974.

Related Objects

The Unicorn in Captivity (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

Artist: Date: 1495–1505
Accession Number: 37.80.6
Date: 1495–1505 Medium: Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts Accession: 37.80.6 On view in:Gallery 17

The Unicorn is Found (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

Artist: Date: 1495–1505
Accession Number: 37.80.2
Date: 1495–1505 Medium: Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts Accession: 37.80.2 On view in:Gallery 17

The Unicorn is Attacked (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

Artist: Date: 1495–1505
Accession Number: 37.80.3
Date: 1495–1505 Medium: Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts Accession: 37.80.3 On view in:Gallery 17

The Hunters Enter the Woods (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

Artist: Date: 1495–1505
Accession Number: 37.80.1
Date: 1495–1505 Medium: Wool warp, wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts Accession: 37.80.1 On view in:Gallery 17

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

Artist: Date: 1495–1505
Accession Number: 37.80.5
Date: 1495–1505 Medium: Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts Accession: 37.80.5 On view in:Gallery 17