Textile Trivia
Medieval Unicorn Tapestries

Did you know that April 9th is National Unicorn Day?
Probably not—very few people do. That's okay, though. We're here to remedy that.

First, a few things about tapestries.

Generally speaking, in a secular context, tapestries in the medieval Europe were a textile commissioned by the nobility, and they were many things at once.
     Naturally, they were propogandistic, relating and setting down the events of history the way the commissioner would have preferred them to be remembered. They were also a practical solution for insulating cold, damp castle walls.
     (Remember when Hamlet murders Polonious, who was hiding being a tapestry, spying for Gertrude? Elsinore was probably super cold and, we imagine, had tons of these hanging from the walls. A convenient—if dangerous—hiding place!)

For those of you who've taken a tour of our Bird in the Textile Arts exhibit, you'll remember this tapestry seen left—an exceptional example of the art, neither medieval nor European.

And of course, tapestries were works of extraordinary beauty, not to mention expense. They demanded a huge amount of cooperative effort to produce, effectively adding to their exclusivity. The more tapestries you had, the more wealth you were showing off.

Unicorn tapestries, though...

When someone mentions a famous medieval unicorn tapestry, they could be referring to one many! There are a few really iconic ones, and they're grouped into two "series." (The Lady and Unicorn are pretty clearly all made to go together, but if you examine the Hunt of the Unicorn series, you'll find there are some narrative and stylistic issues with lumping them together in sequence.) And—other than the Bayeux tapestry, which boasts an embroidered image, not a woven one—these unicorn tapestries are probably the most famous tapestries in the world.

The Hunt of the Unicorn

The Hunters Enter the Woods

The Unicorn is Found

The Unicorn is Attacked

The Unicorn Defends Itself

Two fragments from
The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn

The Unicorn is Killed & Brought to the Castle

The Unicorn is in Captivity and No Longer Dead

The Lady and the Unicorn

Le toucher (touch)

Le goût (taste)

L'odorat (smell)

L'Ouïe (hearing)

Le vue (sight)

Á Mon Seul Dèsir (variously interpreted as: "to my sole desire", "according to my desire alone", "love desires only beauty of soul", and "to calm passion")

The Lacis Museum of Lace & Textiles
2982 Adeline St.
Berkeley, CA 94703