Friday, February 10, 2012

The Unicorn Tapestries - Art Survivors

I'll be the first to admit it: tapestries are pretty boring. They're the red-headed stepchildren of art and art history. Tapestries are completely out of fashion to study and they just look like carpets hung on the wall.

However, tapestries can be interesting! I swear.

The most famous set of tapestries are The Unicorn Tapestries

The Start of the Hunt

The Unicorn at the Fountain

The Unicorn Crossing the Stream

The Unicorn Defends Himself

The Unicorn is Tamed by the Maiden

The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle

The Unicorn in Captivity

Created in 1500 (this is an educated guess by scholars) in Brussels The Unicorn Tapestries are shrouded in symbolism. Today I am going to talk about how these tapestries have survived for the past 500 years. 

Tapestries were the prized possessions of nobleman, aristocrats or anyone else with  money. They took several months or years to make. Tapestries were easy to transport and were often taken on the road with nomadic nobles. They were used to display wealth as well as entertain. In terms of function, tapestries helped keep winter wind out of stone castles. 

The oldest mention of The Unicorn Tapestries was found in approximately 1680 in an inventory for Francois VI de La Rochefoucauld. The tapestries remained in the La Rochefoucauld family until the Reign of Terror in 1793 in France. The tapestry set was plucked from the chateau, though thankfully, the set lacked a royal insignia and were spared from destruction by the enraged citizens of the new French Republic. 

In 1850 Comte Hippolyte de La Rochefoucauld began a search for his family's lost treasures. A rumor came around that some interesting old curtains were in a chateau being used as a protective covering for vegetables in a farmyard barn.

These were The Unicorn Tapestries

Purchased and repaired, they remained with the La Rochefoucauld family until the 1920's when they were placed in the Anderson Gallery in NYC in 1923. John D. Rockefeller Jr. gifted the set to the MET in 1935. 

Phew! That's quite a journey! We are so lucky to have these treasures safe and within the hands of the MET. The president of the MET is a specialist in tapestries and I am sure he loves spending every day near or contemplating The Unicorn Tapestries

I am going to take a nap now, that was a heck of a long post. 

One day we can chat about all of the interesting facts surrounding T.U.T., in the meantime I suggest you read: The Oak King, The Holly King, and The Unicorn, The Myths and Symbolism of the Unicorn Tapestries by John Williamson. All info about this set posted here is from this fabulous book dedicated to this non-red-headed-stepchild tapestry. 

- Grace

* all images courtesy of the MET.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, what an illuminating posts, I surely will bookmark your website. Best Regards! You need to know: Abstract oil painting


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