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The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry


One of the finest works of late medieval art is the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry. It’s a celebration of the senses —taste, hearing, sight, and touch — as a woman savors Europe’s blossoming appreciation of sheer, sensual beauty.

Complete Video Script

[114] Tapestries were designed by Europe's best artists and woven from rich fabrics in high-tech-for-the-day factories. They became a distinctly medieval art form.

[115, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, c. 1500, Cluny Museum, Paris] This exquisite series captures Europe's blossoming appreciation for sheer beauty at the end of the Middle Ages. It's a celebration of all the senses.

[116] There's taste: a woman takes candy from a servant's dish to feed to her parakeet…while the little dog licks his lovingly woven chops. Hearing: the elegant woman plays sweetly on an organ, calming an audience of wild beasts. In this fanciful world, humans and their fellow creatures live in harmony in an enchanted garden. Sight: the unicorn cuddles up and looks at himself in the lady's mirror, pleased with what he sees. The lion turns away and snickers. Touch: that's the most basic and dangerous of the senses. Here, the lady strokes the unicorn's horn…and the lion looks out at us to be sure we get the double entendre. Medieval Europeans were enjoying the wonders — and physical pleasures — of life.

[117] The words on our lady's tent read: "To My Sole Desire." What is her only desire? Is it jewelry? Or is she putting the necklace away and renouncing material things? Is it God? Love? The unicorn and lion open the tent. Is she going in to meet the object of her desire? Or just stepping out…to embrace the world?