"Dame à la Licorne: The Lady and the Unicorn" Musee de Cluny - Museum of the Middle Ages Tip by goodfish
Musee de Cluny - Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris: 79 reviews and 263 photos
I mentioned these in my Musée de Cluny tip review it's such an important exhibit that it deserves a page of its own. This rare and lovely set of six tapestries is thought to have been created sometime near the end of the 15th century. Who commissioned them and why isn't certain but based on a coat of arms present in each of them, it was likely a member of the Le Viste family of Lyon. This would explain the presence of the lion, with the unicorn representing the family name. It was a medieval symbol for swiftness: "viste" in old French. Five of the hangings are visual allegories of the five senses, and it's not difficult to figure out which is which.
...holds a mirror that reflects the face of her unicorn: sight
...plays a small organ, helped by a handmaiden: hearing/sound
...weaves a garland of flowers from a basket held by a servant: smell
...selects a sweet from a bowl: taste
...gently strokes the unicorn's horn: touch
The sixth tapestry is a bit of a mystery but a brochure from the museum shop offers several different interpretations. In this one, our lady is enclosed in a blue pavilion emblazoned with the words "A mon sevl desir": my only desire. The enclosure could be symbolic of the separation of sacred from profane, or earthy from heavenly. I can also easily imagine it as enclosing purity of the heart - and the heart as a sixth sense is indeed one of the most possible allegories.
The lady has taken off her costly necklace and is placing it into a casket of jewels held by her handmaiden. Is she renouncing worldly vanities for a more austere and spiritual life? Or is she telling us that true love is more valuable than material riches? You be the judge. I did find it interesting that this lady's hair has a rather ragged and shorn appearance compared to the careful coifs or long, flowing locks of the others.
The pieces are displayed in a very dimly lit room to preserve their colors. Photography is allowed but no flash so they're a bit difficult to capture on film.
Address: 6, place Paul Painlevé 75005 Paris
Directions: Where Boulevard Saint-Michel meets Boulevard Saint-Germain... couldn't be easier. Metro Cluny-Sorbonne (closer) or Saint-Michel (not far at all).
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