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The Lady and the Unicorn: Taste - History
Image: The Sixth Tapestry - My Sole Desire
Revered as a French national treasure The lady and the unicorn tapestry series, often referred to as the ‘Mona Lisa of the Middle Ages’, will be making its exclusive appearance in Sydney at the Art Gallery of NSW through a generous and exceptional loan from the collection of the Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris.
Designed in Paris about 1500, the tapestries are considered to be some of the greatest surviving masterpieces of medieval European art. They depict a lady flanked by a lion and a unicorn, surrounded by an enchanting world of animals, trees and flowers. One of the most intriguing aspects of these six large-scale artworks is the mystery of their origin and meaning. For whom were these masterpieces made? What do they symbolise? What stories do they tell?
Often interpreted as a vivid meditation on earthly pleasures and courtly love, the tapestries showcase the sublime skill of medieval artisans. They can also be viewed as an allegory of the five senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell – as well as a sixth sense – heart or will – represented by the phrase ‘mon seul désir’ or ‘my sole desire’.
An engaging program of events and activities, including film, digital and tactile experiences for all ages, will help unravel this centuries-old mystery and illuminate the beauty and intricacy of these enigmatic masterpieces.
This exhibition is made possible with the support of the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW.
1. Tapestry of a thousand flowers
The Lady and the Unicorn uses a particular tapestry style called Millefleur- literally 'thousand flowers'. It describes the embellishing of tapestry backgrounds with floral motifs. It's a very specific French style, only used over the relatively short period of one hundred and fifty years- though it's peak is around 1500- at the same time as The Lady and the Unicorn is made. Looking at the tapestry it is possible to identify dozens of distinct flower and plant types, including pansy, lily of the valley, daisy, carnation, and daffodil. They create the effect of a romantic garden, while also often holding symbolic meaning.
2. Why unicorns?
Unicorns were genuinely believed to exist at the time of this tapestries making. It was thought they could sense evil, and that their horn could purify poisons, unfortunately (and potentially conveniently) they were impossibly quick, and nearly impossible to catch. For people at the time they had strong associations with chastity, purity, goodness, and nobility. They had an affinity with virgins, it was believed that the only people who could catch unicorns were young, virginal women. We can assume the lady of the tapestries is a virgin through her ability to tame the unicorn. It's also signified through her unbound hair as married French women worn their hair up. The unicorn as a subject of the tapestries illustrates a sense of goodness and virtue in the action taking place.
3. On courtly love
The medieval nobility was obsessed with the notion of 'Courtly Love'. Inspired by romantic literature about knights in shining armour and princesses, courtliness evoked nobility, chivalry, moral goodness, refinement, and generosity. Throughout the first five tapestries, the lady illustrates her courtly refinement in her exploration of the senses. However, the presence of the unicorn also offers a reading of the work as a piece of romance. Knights being chivalrous and moral were represented metaphorically as unicorns, agents of good, only tameable by fair maidens. The relationship of the lady and the unicorn is sometimes read as a romantic narrative, the unicorn a representation of her knight in shining armour.
4. As seen in Harry Potter
The Sixth tapestry, 'My only desire', has a featuring role as the Gryffindor common rooms main wall décor in the 'Harry Potter and the Philosophers' stone film. In the film, it creates a sense of warmth and comfort. Quite fitting as part of the appeal of tapestries was that they functioned as insulation in draughty castles as well as pieces of art. It's a great piece of filmic design, as the tapestry too evokes notions of the courtly - that is the courageous, noble, and chivalrous, particularly through its motifs of the lion and the unicorn - symbolism that JK Rowling also draws upon five-hundred years later in her creation of the Hogwarts house of bravery and chivalry.
5. What does it all really mean?
Much of the nuance of the meaning of these tapestries has been lost to time. Symbolism changes, and no surrounding documentation exists. We know the first five tapestries refer to the five senses and courtliness. However, the final tapestry refers to a sixth sense, with phrase 'My only desire' emblazoned on the lady's tent. In this the lady seems to reject a chest of jewels featured in earlier tapestries. It seems her desire involves abandoning the sensory things that have categorised the previous five tapestries. The final sense is immaterial - something inwards, the soul, or heart perhaps. Perhaps her sole desire is the abandonment of the worldly, and the courtly. This meaning is up for debate, even amongst Art Historians, so take the time to interpret it for yourself.
For more information about The Lady and the Unicorn, read 'Explainer: the symbolism of The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry cycle' in The Conversation written by Dr Mark De Vitas.
We're on Instagram! Watch our Instagram story highlight to see Imogen's day at The Lady at the Unicorn. Follow @artss_sydney.
The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries
The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries are over 500 years old, and have inspired books, songs, movies, and have stirred debate amongst historians.
“The Lady and the Unicorn” is regarded as the Mona Lisa of woven artworks. Its reputation is due to its symbolism, history, and mystery. The tapestry’s meaning is obscure but has been understood to represent “love or understanding.”
Woven in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium, from wool and silk, the “Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries” consist of six tapestries designed from drawings that originated from Paris.
Five of the tapestries illustrate the five senses symbolized by the woman’s interaction with a unicorn, lion, monkey, and different objects in the composition.
The sixth tapestry remains more of a mystery with the prominent wording “À Mon Seul Désir” (To my only Desire) in the tent.
In the “Touch Tapestry,” the lady stands with one hand touching the unicorn’s horn and the other holding up the pennant.
In the “Sight Tapestry,” the lady is seated, holding a mirror up to the unicorn.
In the “Taste Tapestry,” the lady is taking sweets from a dish.
In the “Smell Tapestry,” the lady stands, making a wreath of flowers.
In the “Hearing Tapestry,” the lady plays the organ on top of a table.
In all the tapestries, the unicorn is to the lady’s left and the lion to her right. This arrangement forms a common theme for all the tapestries.
The sixth, “À Mon Seul Désir” Tapestry, is wider than the others and has a different style. The lady stands in front of a tent. Across the top of the entrance to the tent is written “À Mon Seul Désir.”
An obscure motto, the unicorn, and the lion frame the lady while holding onto the tent pennants.
Tapestry weavers use to create the design as they progressed using their imagination. However, from the fourteenth century onward, they copied from a broadsheet of paper (cartone) or a drawing or painting (cartoon).
“The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries” are among the most significant surviving examples of tapestry art from the Middle Ages.
Historians argue that in five of the six panels, the mysterious lady with the unicorn is Mary Tudor.
The third wife of Louis XII and sister of Henry VIII, who was Queen of France from 1514 to 1515.
This Middle Ages masterpiece was “rediscovered” in poor condition in 1841 in the castle of Boussac.
The Lady and the Unicorn Taste Needlepoint
A magnificent French vintage tapestry. The needlepoint canvas wall hanging is a reproduction of one of the tapestries from the famous the Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame à la licorne in French) series of 6 tapestries. This one depicts "The Taste" (Le Gout).
"The Lady and the Unicorn is the modern title given to a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders from wool and silk, from designs drawn in Paris around 1500. The set, on display in the Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris, is often considered one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages in Europe.
Five of the tapestries are commonly interpreted as depicting the five senses: taste, hearing, sight, smell, and touch. The sixth displays the words "À mon seul désir". The tapestry's meaning is obscure, but has been interpreted as representing love or understanding.
The tapestries are created in the style of mille-fleurs (meaning: "thousand flowers")."
This vintage French tapestry is overall good condition. For a safe shipping, it will be sent without the back wooden frame.
Please take a close look at the photos, they are an integral part of the description.
The Lady and the Unicorn: Taste - History
If you have been looking for wall decoration of medieval times, then you may have heard of 'The lady and the Unicorn' tapestry series.
Commonly known by the senses portray – taste, touch, smell, sound and sight – 'The lady and the Unicorn' tapestries are actually six separate sections that were thought to be woven in Flanders in the 16th century. The clue is in the bottom of their 'mille-Fleurs' in the same tapestry.
But because they are stillused as wall decoration, still today? Well, let's look at a brief history of this unusual series of tapestries to understand why they continue to capture our imagination.
Known collectively as 'Dame a la Licorne', the meanings of the tapestries are shrouded in mystery. The works of taste, touch, smell, sound and sight are united by the work 'A MON Seul Desir' which means 'With my only desire.' Some interpret 'The Lady and the Unicorn' series to be the Virgin Mary as a waiver of thephysical world of the senses to the spiritual world.
Although the origins of the series are not yet clear, it is believed that the work was originally commissioned by Jean Le Viste to commemorate his ascension to the court of King Louis XI. Each tapestry includes the family crest somewhere in the scene, either on a flag, a banner or a flag.
Today, all six tapestries continue to be sought after as wall decoration, to bring the various scenes of the 'Madonna andthe Unicorn 'Home. Collectors and lovers of medieval wall decor look for this particular series of tapestries, not only because it is in the medieval period, but the fact that it is also shrouded in mystery. Its interpretation is still partly to the viewer.
This is part of the charm of 'The Lady and the Unicorn' tapestries. But in any case, each is a true work of art and tells a wonderful story.
'A MON Seul Desir' features the lady and her lady pending. It is seen putting her necklace of precious stones in a box of jewels. It is believed to represent the rejection of temptation and self-denial. On the other hand, translated to 'Only My Heart's Desire' this scene could instead be its own show of love for her husband on hold.
'Smell' shows the lady weaving a necklace of scented flowers, and 'Touch' depicts here petting a unicorn. 'Hearing' depicts a woman playing a pipe organ, while the 'view' shows theMrs. Viewing her reflection in the mirror. In 'Taste', the lady is a slave of his sweet tasting dish.
These representations of the 5 senses are designed to represent our worldly desires, which complete the sense of 'love' in the sixth tapestry. But if we interpret the sixth tapestry in the sense of the denial of worldly desires for the spiritual, then the 5 senses, in fact, are contrary to this.
How were these tapestries discovered in recent history? L 'tapestries were handed down from family to family for centuries after the death of Jean Le Viste. Today, after being bought by the French government, are housed in Paris' Musee National du Moyage Age in an oval room that was built especially for them.
In conclusion, the shrouded meanings, along with their application as works of art that have made these works, well known throughout history and this modern day. Whether unicorns were imaginary creatures not was not themain point. What continues to intrigue us the different meanings that these works can be. And this makes us guess the real meaning behind these works.
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The Lady and the Unicorn
At the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, in Paris, there is a set of six tapestries collectively known as "The Lady and the Unicorn." Here is the one representing the sense of taste. The lady reaches with one hand for a tidbit offered by her lady-in-waiting, although both women seem more interested in the Rose-ringed Parakeet on her other hand. The monkey at her feet seems to be bringing something to its mouth, or maybe it's just teasing the little dog, who looks as if it would like some also.
The mysterious black bird is near the top of the tapestry, with wings outstretched in flight. That conveniently displays the dramatically white underwings.
The tapestries are remarkable for their excellent condition, considering that they are over 500 years old. Their interpretation is open to conjecture.
The mysterious black-and-white bird is also found in another of the tapestries, considered to represent the sense of smell.
Lady with the Unicorn Taste, Smell and Hearing
D espite their different dimensions, probably related to practical imperatives, the tapestries of Taste, Smell and Hearing are similar in their composition. The Lady is wearing sumptuous clothes and adorned with pearls and precious stones. The refinement of the clothes and jewels can notably be found in the detail of the openings fastened by laces and the twisted or ringed necklace matching the belt. Only her hairstyle really differs in Hearing. Consisting of two braids brought together as an egret above the head, it evokes the horn of the mythical animal.
In each of the tapestries of Taste, Smell and Hearing, the Lady is helped by a young Lady to illustrate the three senses:
In sense of Taste:
The Lady seizes with her right hand a delicacy in a dish offered by the young Lady and gave it to a parrot standing on her gloved left hand. In the foreground, a monkey takes a fruit to his mouth.
In sense of Smell:
The young Lady presents a tray laden with carnations to the Lady who does or undoes a flower crown that she has on in Taste. Behind her, a monkey sitting on a bench smells the perfume of a rose.
In sense of Hearing:
The Lady plays a melody on a portable organ called &ldquopositive&rdquo and laid on a piece of furniture covered with a rug while the young Lady is activating the bellows. The two uprights of the instrument are enhanced by medallions of precious stones and pearls one is topped by a lion, the other by an unicorn. In the foreground, a pointing fox seems to have heard something.
The etymological relationship between the crown (from the Latin &ldquocorona&rdquo) and the horn (from the Latin &ldquocornu&rdquo) also conceals a symbolic relationship. The crown is an attribute of the spiritual and temporal power, the outer radiance of which is suggested by its circular form and the flowers opening in all directions. Placed on the top of the head, the crown symbolizes the meeting point within the being of descending celestial with ascending terrestrial influences. A descent and ascent alongside an Axis linking Heaven and Earth and symbolized by the two intertwined horns of the mythical animal.
The tapestry of Taste is the only one to contain a round fence made of roses. It isolates the main characters from the red background spangled with flowers. The flowers play an important role in the whole set of tapestries, particularly in Taste and Smell.
Young Woman with Unicorn
Portrait of Young Woman with Unicorn is a painting by Raphael, which art historians date c. 1505-1506. It is in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. The painting was originally oil on panel, and was transferred to canvas during conservation work in 1934. It was in the course of this work that overpainting was removed, revealing the unicorn, and removing the wheel, cloak, and palm frond that had been added by an unknown painter during the mid-17th century.
|Young Woman with Unicorn|
|Type||Originally oil on panel now on canvas|
|Dimensions||65 cm × 51 cm (26 in × 20 in)|
|Location||Galleria Borghese, Rome|
The composition of the picture—placing the figure in a loggia opening out onto a landscape, the three-quarter length format—was apparently inspired by the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo between 1503 and 1506.  Christof Thoenes observes: "However unabashedly Raphael adopts the pose, compositional framework and spatial organization of the Leonardo portrait. the cool watchfulness in the young woman's gaze is very different" from the "enigmatic ambiguity" of Mona Lisa. 
The work was of uncertain attribution until recent times. In the 1760 inventory of the Gallery, the subject of the painting was identified as Saint Catherine of Alexandria and attributed to Perugino. A restoration of the painting in 1934–36 confirmed art historian Roberto Longhi's attribution of the work to Raphael, and the removal of heavy repainting revealed the unicorn, traditionally a symbol of chastity in medieval romance, in place of a Saint Catherine wheel.  Restoration work on the painting in 1959 revealed through radiography the image of a small dog, a symbol of conjugal fidelity, under the unicorn. It served as a sketch for the final appearance of the unicorn.
About Each Season
The Emmy Award-winning series, A Taste of History, presents its eleventh season! Join Chef Walter Staib as he prepares spectacular colonial cuisine over an open hearth fire with recipes like roasted mutton, gaisburger marsch, and chicken leek pie.
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The Emmy award-winning series, A Taste of History, presents its tenth season! Join Chef Walter Staib as he prepares spectacular colonial cuisine over an open hearth fire with recipes like veal kidney mushroom pie and baked stuffed flounder with sorrel and summer squash. In the tenth season, Chef Staib explores the unique flavors along the Texas-Mexico border and visits historic sites like George Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Learn how 17th century ale was brewed and the history of America’s native spirit of bourbon in this eye-opening season. International locations such as the first major salt producer in the world are highlighted, along with a distinctive Asian fusion cuisine in Jamaica
Chef Walter Staib’s Emmy award-winning series, A Taste of History, recreates 18th century culinary heritage by cooking spectacular colonial recipes over an open hearth fire. In this season, Chef Staib returns to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and visits the site of America’s first permanent English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. Joined by his son, he also travels to Nicaragua in a touching tribute to his late wife. Other notable locations include Pennsbury Manor, the south coast of Jamaica, a rainforest in St. Lucia and more! Stuffed kohlrabi, lavender-marinated duck, oyster toast, and lemon meringue pie are just a few of the many extravagant 18th century recipes created.
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Join Chef Walter Staib for an exciting Season Seven of A Taste of History. Follow Chef Staib as he takes you to Barbados, the only place George Washington traveled to outside of the America. Witness the great work of Charles Thomsons Great Seal of the U.S. Jump in to the Modern father of Psychiatry in Philadelphia, Dr. Benjamin Rush also a signer of Declaration. Chef Staib will then bring you over to Cognac to meet the Hennessy family. Enjoy a mouthwatering Sinful Feast at Elizabeth Powel house. Join Chef Staib at the 11th presidents James Polks original home in Columbia, Tennessee. This season is packed with history at its finest.
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