"Dame à la licorne" - Goût
3'3" x 2'8"
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This tapestry is created in the style of mille-fleurs and is known as The Lady and the Unicorn (French: La Dame à la licorne). Made in France, it is the modern title given to a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders of wool and silk, from designs drawn in Paris in the late 15th century.
This particular tapestry does not represent one of the five senses but rather it is a fine representation of the sixth tapestry known as "À mon seul désir" which is wider than the others and has a somewhat different style. The lady stands in front of a tent, across the top of which is written "À Mon Seul Désir", an obscure motto, variously interpretable as "according to my desire alone"; "by my will alone", "love desires only beauty of soul", "to calm passion". Her maidservant stands to the right, holding open a chest. The lady is placing the necklace she wears in the other tapestries into the chest. To her left is a low bench with bags of coins on it. The unicorn and the lion stand in their normal spots framing the lady while holding onto the pennants.
This tapestry has elicited a number of interpretations. One interpretation sees the lady putting the necklace into the chest as a renunciation of the passions aroused by the other senses, and as an assertion of her free will. Another sees the tapestry as representing a sixth sense of understanding (derived from the sermons of Jean Gerson of the University of Paris, c. 1420). Various other interpretations see the tapestry as representing love or virginity. The suite, on display in the Musée du Moyen Âge in France, 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", whose meaning is obscure, but has been interpreted as representing love or understanding.
Each of the six tapestries depicts a noble lady with the unicorn on her left and a lion on her right; some include a monkey in the scene. The pennants, as well as the armor of the Unicorn and Lion in the tapestry bear the arms of the sponsor, Jean Le Viste, a powerful nobleman in the court of King Charles VII. This type of tapestry was rediscovered in 1841 by Prosper Mérimée in Boussac castle where they had been suffering damage from their storage conditions. Novelist George Sand brought public attention to the tapestries in her works at the time. The cycle is currently held in the Musée de Cluny (Musée du Moyen-Âge), Paris (France), where it has resided since 1882. This type of tapestry is also the central theme of the novels The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, and The Seventh Unicorn by Kelly Jones. A trilogy historical novels of Pith Schure have come out under titles of the form "La Licorne". In this richly illustrated work the Unicorn comes and goes. Highlighted is the find of the famous medieval Flemish tapestries by Prosper Mérimée in 1841 and the ensuing publication by the latter onetime lover George Sand.
Sources and inspiration: Bérinstain, Valérie, et al. L'art du tapis dans le monde (The art of carpets in the world). Paris: Mengès, 1996. Print.; Jerrehian Jr., Aram K.A. Oriental Rug Primer. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1980. Print.; Herbert, Janice Summers. Oriental Rugs, New York: Macmillan, 1982. Print.; Hackmack, Adolf. Chinese Carpets and Rugs, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1980. Print. ; De Moubray, Amicia, and David Black. Carpets for the home, London: Laurence King Publishing, 1999. Print.; Jacobsen, Charles. Oriental Rugs A Complete Guide, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1962. Print.; Bashir, S. (n.d.). Personal interview.; Web site sources and dates of consultation vary (to be confirmed). Without prejudice to official usage.