French Medieval masterpiece a must to see

Medieval masterpieces – the panel reflecting sight – of The Lady and the Unicorn.

The rarest of French Medieval masterpieces – the six-panel tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn – will be on show at the Art Gallery of NSW until June 24, 2018.

On loan from the Musee de Cluny also known as the Musee National de Moyen Age in Paris, the 500-year-old French national treasure  is the  world’s greatest surviving Medieval artwork.

Woven in wool and silk at the end of the fifteenth century, La Dame (the lady) is assumed to be a beautiful Medieval virgin because, in the  panels, she flanked by the mythical unicorn on her left and a lion on her right.  Mythology only aligns Unicorns with purity and virgins.  In the artwork, the lady is richly clad in Medieval costumes and each panel is an allegory of the five senses – sight (shown here), hearing, taste, touch and smell. Each panel features a lush background of exotic animals and fruit-laden trees and flowers in what is believed to reflect the idyllic pleasures of earthly life.

The larger main panel, where the lady stands before an ornate tent, carries the words “A mon  seul desir” suggesting a theme of love and desire.  But  the origin and meaning of the large scale artworks have been lost in time. One theory is that they were commissioned by a powerful French nobleman  who wanted to make his desires known to his loved one – a common theme of the courtly culture of the times.

They have been created in the style of the mille-fleurs (thousand flowers) and were lost for about 300 years before being rediscovered in 1841 in the Boussac castle in Central France. In 1844, the popular 19th century French novelist George Sand saw them and immediately recognised their immense value and they were correctly dated at the end of the 15th century.  Sand  brought them to public attention in her novel Jeanne.

Meanwhile, in contemporary times, several of the tapestries can be seen hanging on the walls of Gryffindor in the Harry Potter series of films.


Tickets to the exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW are available on line for $18.00 per person, $16.00 concession with special family rates.


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