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)
Medium:Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts
Dimensions:Overall: 145 x 158 in. (368.3 x 401.3cm)
Credit Line:Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937
Inscription: (in each corner and in center): A [image of a knot] E [reversed] (unidentified)
(on scabbard hanging from man on left): AVE : / REGINA . C[AELORVM] (Hail the Queen of the Heavens [reference to one of the Marian antiphons])
(on dog’s collar, left): OFANGRE (too fragmentary for interpretation)
(on dog’s collar, center): A [image of a knot] E [reversed] (unidentified)
Comtes de La Rochefoucauld, France ; François VI de La Rochefoucauld French, 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. American (in 1923 through Edouard Larcade–until 1937)
Anderson Galleries. "Exhibited by Edouard Larcade," 1922.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "French Gothic Tapestries," May 25–September 16, 1928.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 14, 1970–June 1, 1971.
Galeries nationales du Grand Palais. "Masterpieces of Tapestry from the 14th to the 16th century," October 27, 1973–January 7, 1974.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Tapestry from the 14th to the 16th century," February 8–April 21, 1974.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Unicorn Tapestries," July 1–September 6, 1998.
New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "Search for the Unicorn: An Exhibition in Honor of The Cloisters' 75th Anniversary," May-14-Aug-18-2013.
Breck, Joseph. "The Tapestry Exhibition: Part I." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, o.s., 23, no. 6 (June 1928). pp. 147–50, fig. 2.
Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of French Gothic Tapestries. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1928. no. 4–9, pp. 18–21.
Migeon, Gaston. Les Arts du Tissu. Manuels d'histoire de l'art. Revised ed. Paris: Henri Laurens, 1929. p. 326.
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.
Lief, Zola. "The Cloisters." The Compleat Collector 3, no. 7 (May 1943). p. 4.
Hoving, Thomas. "The Thread of Patronage: The Medieval Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters." Apollo 82, no. 43 (September 1965). pp. 185–86, pl. XI.
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. 196–201.
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. 4, discussed and ill. thoughout.
Young, Bonnie. A Walk Through The Cloisters. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979. pp. 65–75.
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. 4, 9.
Erlande-Brandenburg, Alain. Gothic Art. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1989. pp. 346, fig. 160, ill. p. 352.
Cavallo, Adolfo S. Medieval Tapestries in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 20d, pp. 14, 51, 297–327.
Cavallo, Adolph S. The Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998. no. 4.
Franke, Birgit. Assuerus und Esther am Burgunderhof: Zur Rezeption des Buches Esther in den Niederlanden (1450 bis 1530). Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1998. p. 119.
Campbell, Thomas P., ed. Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. no. 5, pp. 70–79, 164.
Barnet, Peter, and Nancy Y. Wu. The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. no. 120, pp. 164–65, 199.
Piccat, Marco. "Le lettere nascoste: Caterina d’Aragona e le tappezzerie del liocorno. Musée de Cluny (Parigi)." Locus Amœnus 10 (2009–2010). p. 18.
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. p. 172–173.
Husband, Timothy B. "Creating the Cloisters." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 70, no. 4 (Spring 2013). pp. 15–17, 43–45, fig. 30.
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. 69, fig. 6.
Boehm, Barbara Drake. "A Blessing of Unicorns: The Paris and Cloisters Tapestries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 78, no. 1 (Summer 2020). pp. 39–40, fig. 10.
Philippe de Montebello, former Director of The Met, guides viewers through The Cloisters, pointing out Romanesque and Gothic architecture and artwork, beautiful tapestries, and the diverse species in the gardens. He outlines the history of the building and its many influences and highlights significant works of art in the collection.
Produced for the 1974 exhibition Masterpieces of Tapestry, this short form recounts the tale depicted in “The Unicorn Tapestries” and explains the symbolic meaning of these mythic creatures, including their purifying and restorative powers.
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