The present lot, exceptionally preserved, is equally matched in the mastery of the weaving by the complex composition.
The renowned series of seven “Unicorn Tapestries” in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Cloisters and gifted by John D. Rockefeller are the most celebrated examples of this subject matter. The scholarship surrounding this series has greatly increased the understanding of both the narrative and the complex symbols represented.
The subject of the unicorn fascinated artists in the middle ages. The mystical creature was thought to be invincible, armed with a horn that possessed a therapeutic power. In the series at the Cloisters, the unicorn is depicted in a manner of attitudes, from gentle to ferocious, passive to animalistic.
The wild yet noble stag juxtaposed with the majestic and magical unicorn creates a duality of masculinity and femininity, as well as grace and unrest. In other examples of tapestries that depict both a stag and a unicorn, a more outward display of violence is typically illustrated, but the composition of this work can nearly be interpreted as harmonious, two wild creatures acknowledging the grace and power each possess. No blood is shed, and instead they are peacefully at rest, nestled in colorful millefleurs background.
The flora and fauna are equally as significant in their symbolism, and play an important role in the interpretation of the tapestries. In the series of Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters, over 100 species of plants and herbals are represented. Medieval herbals such as sage and marigolds, along with species like wild orchids and thistles feature prominently. Here, the field of flowers is a reminder that the unicorn was able to withstand the strongest and most deadly poisonous plants by way of his healing horn.