“Always be yourself unless you can be a unicorn … then always be a unicorn,” Jaime Murray.
Just like the idea of a beautiful maiden and a unicorn takes over the imagination of little girls and boys the world over, the Lady and the Unicorn French Tapestries will take you on an ethereal journey that envelopes your senses and allows your imagination to linger in another world. The subject of literary inspiration, scholarly speculation and universal wonder, the Lady and the Unicorn works are simply divine.
Only the third time The lady and the unicorn tapestry series has left France in 500 years, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these magnificent artworks at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, Australia, until 24 June.
Woven in Paris around the 1500s, the tapestries depict a lady flanked by a lion and a unicorn, surrounded by an enchanting world of animals, trees and flowers. The tapestries are described as an allegory of the senses … touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell and the heart – represented by the phrase ‘mon seul désir’ or ‘my sole desire’.
When you enter the exhibition through a curtained archway of silks imaging the tapestries’ backdrop, the gallery’s curation leads you into the mystery – and rather than answering facts – opens the door for yet further wonder … “Who made them? Who were they made for and why? Who is the beautiful lady and what does the unicorn represent?”
The curator hints their meaning in both mystical and worldly representations. A documentary in another area that can be accessed in the lead up to seeing the majestically hung tapestries provides both guides and yet more questions of their origins. The identification of the Family Coat of Arms based in Lyon, the millefleure (thousand flower) style that became popular in the 1400s, the speculation of marriage and wedding gifts represented by the unicorn like a suitor and the lady a bride.
While the mysterious nature of the tapestries is an overarching theme, perhaps made even more magical with the presence of a unicorn, equally prominent is their exquisite beauty. The colours while faded with time are still rich and earthy. The characters, rather than being staunch or stark and frozen with a medieval stare are soft and friendly and loving. The unicorn appears tame and unafraid, almost smiling in some of the tapestries, leaving the viewer feeling warm and sympathetic to their art. The animals, dancing around the scenes among the European trees, each with their own representation, are also tame in their appearance; utopian, folkloric, tender.
The exhibition so elegant it begs contemplation and adoration. And for those with children, they can continue the dream by taking part in the weaving, or in the activities area where children can make their own pet unicorns, or perhaps even yourself. After all, it’s the child in us that loves the unicorn.