The Lady & The Unicorn – On display at The Art Gallery of NSW


Paris has arrived at The Art Gallery of NSW for a brief time showcasing an enchanting collection of The Lady & The Unicorn tapestries courtesy of the Musee National du Moyen Age also known as the Cluny Museum in Paris.  The tapestries are a rare and precious series of six works of embroided art where the story and the reason behind their creation remains a mystery to this day.  Even the millefleur (thousand flower) technique used to create the tapestries are a wonder and is considered to be the finest example of this technique that was greatly used in the late 1400s.  “The Lady & The Unicorn” – a title that calls to mind medieval chivalric romance literature, knights in shining armour and the pursuit of courtly love.  Many associate the medieval era as a dark time as so much violence and religious upheaval can be historically linked to this period of time.  However, the romantic rituals and notion of “courting” came from this period and began in the royal courts where knights and men of stature would go to great, creative lengths in order to prove their worth and love for their soul desire.  The lady & the Unicorn tapestries are a seductive and captivating window into the medieval, romantic world when the renaissance was looming in and liberating peoples senses and emotions from the religious restraints and expectations imposed by the church.

The tapestries depict a time when one’s “seul desire” could be more freely expressed and the human senses of sight, taste, smell and touch could be further explored and depicted through art as an expression of cultural change.  They are believed to be a tribute to love and deeper understanding of human existence, feelings and emotions and much like the notion of true love the tapestries seduce our senses, transfix our minds and toy with our emotions with rich colours and romantic themes where exotic animals, pretty floral arrangements and a mysterious lady figure are woven into a beautiful vignette of symbolism and controversial themes.  Much like Notre Dame was saved by the heroic Victor Hugo, the tapestries were saved and brought to light by another prolific and legendary Parisian writer, George Sand.  Sand brought the tapestries and their historic importance and significance to the attention of the French and thanks to her they were saved from decay and placed in the Cluny Museum for all to admire.

There is a recurring theme in the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries that features the same enchanting lady figure at different life phases, the unicorn, lion, monkey, small creatures, flowers and the rich use of red, blue and white throughout.  All the creatures, objects and colours seen in the tapestries are woven to create a story and to individually express symbolic meaning relating to spirituality, senses, virtue and human desires.  For me, the tapestries seem to be a collection of symbolic dreams where human sensuality, desires and senses are awakening from a long medieval slumber into a period of rebirth or renaissance where human desires and emotions can be set free from the restraints of the dark ages.  The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are a must see for all ages  and will be at The Art Gallery of NSW until June 24th.  Allow yourself the opportunity to gaze into the window of another time as portrayed in the tapestries and be transfixed and mesmerised by the alluring and magnetic lady, her loyal creatures and the mystery behind, “mon seul desir”…Dear readers, are you entranced by The Lady and The Unicorn from Paris, France?

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