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Orvieto Duomo is an Umbrian highlight!

Orvieto Duomo is an Umbrian highlight!

Orvieto is a stunning hill top town in Umbria, Italy. At its pinnacle is Orvieto Duomo, a brilliant example of Italian Gothic architecture dating from 1290 AD. The façade is constructed to enhance the illusion of soaring into the heavens! It is embellished with a […]

Francigena Val di Susa Marathon

Francigena Val di Susa Marathon

On the 17th June this year, I walked in the second of four Via Francigena Marathons in Italy. The Francigena Val di Susa Marathon began in Avigliana near Turin, and continued for 42 km to an ancient Roman amphitheatre in Susa. There was an air […]

The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries

The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries

Last year I visited the Musèe de Cluny in Paris to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Little did I realise I would see them again so soon in Sydney at the AGNSW.  However, their meaning is somewhat obscure. So, here are some ideas summary based on research by the Director of the Musée de Cluny.

The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries

The five senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight are commonly agreed to be the focus of the tapestries. But, the sixth tapestry is more difficult to explain. So, let us take a look at each tapestry.

There is a circular platform or ‘terrace’ common to each tapestry. It is like a stage where the action takes place. And, it has a green ground covered in flowers and animals. The lady is the principal player, and she is often attended by her lady-in-waiting.  The lion and unicorn frame the lady and bear her coat of arms. It is is interesting to observe the behaviour of the lion and unicorn in each tapestry.

 

Lady and the Unicorn Touch

Touch

The lady stands alone with her animals in the garden of love. A sense of touch is implied by the way she holds the emblazoned banner with one hand and touches the unicorn’s horn with the other. Perhaps she has tamed the unicorn and captured his heart. Collared animals in the background emphasise this idea of capture. Her free flowing hair held in place by a tiara is a symbolic of virginity in medieval imagery. It would seem that she is a young woman in love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lady and the Unicorn Taste

 Taste

In this scene the lady is attended by her servant who holds a bowl of sweets from which she feeds her pet parrot. The sense of taste is parroted by the monkey also eating a treat. The lady is engaging in the sweet taste of love. Courtly love is symbolised by the rose-covered trellis which encloses the garden. The hunt of the unicorn is also implied by the pomegranates, symbol of fertility, which adorn the lady’s belt. The lion is keen to taste the sweets, but the unicorn is clearly interested.

 

 

 

Lady and the Unicorn Smell

Smell

The lady is again attended by her servant who holds a bowl of flowers. The lady is constructing a flower garland which also symbolises courtly love. Crowning a lover with flowers was a popular romantic gesture. And the carnation was an emblem of sacred as well as profane love. The monkey has found a basket of roses, but it is carnations that she needs. And to her right, the unicorn understands this, but the lion has no part in it.

 

 

 

The Lady and the Unicorn Hearing

Hearing

The lady and her young companion are playing a small musical instrument known as a positive organ. The lady is magnificently dressed and her hair style is most unusual. She plays the organ standing and her servant works the bellows on the other side. The lion is looking quite vexed by the sound, but the unicorn quivers with pleasure. The lady’s musical accomplishment is a noble attribute in an era of courtly manners and a sign of personal refinement. And she has clearly captured the unicorn’s heart.

 

 

 

 

 


The Lady and the Unicorn Sight

Sight

This is an intimate scene focusing on the gazes between the lady and the unicorn. The lady is holding a beautiful golden mirror reflecting the unicorn’s intimate expression. According to myth the fierce and swift unicorn can only be captured if tamed by a virgin. The unicorn abandons his heraldic function to gaze at his own reflection. The unicorn in turn gracefully lays his forelegs in the lady’s lap. The lady has clearly captured the unicorn and his heart. The lion looks away into the distance taking the role of the standard bearer.

 

 

 

 

 

Mon Seul Désir

Mon Seul Désir

This scene is believed to illustrate the sixth sense. In medieval times, this was the soul, the mind or the heart giving rise to a moral life. On the other hand is was the seat of carnal desire. This dichotomy is shown in the tapestry where the lady can be either taking jewels from the casket to wear before entering the tent. Or perhaps she is returning them in a gesture of renunciation. Maybe she is rejecting the pleasures of the senses, by her own free will, or her ‘sole desire’.

 

 

 

 

Interpretation

The tapestries show each of the senses in a hierarchy relative to the highest sense, the soul located at the top of the head. So, the first tapestry, touch is the most distant. Next comes taste, then smell, followed by hearing. Sight is closest to the spiritual world of the mind. The lady becomes more beautifully adorned as she ascends through these senses to capture the heart of the unicorn. So the sixth piece, Mon Seul Désir, is closest to the soul or the spiritual world. The words on the tent give a clue to the meaning of the tapestries. They literally mean, my desire alone.  This implies that she is using her free will to make a choice. She is either returning her jewels to the casket, or she is deliberately choosing them. Is she accepting the pleasures of love or is she rejecting them out of choice.

However, there are two letters ‘A’ and ‘I’ at each end of the inscription, which may be the initials of the two fiancés. So the inscriptions seems to refer to the two meanings of the heart, as the sixth sense.

David Hockney at the Centre Pompidou

David Hockney at the Centre Pompidou

‘Art should be about joy!’ David Hockney has been true to his words! And, to celebrate his 80th birthday, a lifetime span of his works is exhibited (June 21 to Oct 23 2017) at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.  This huge collection of his works gives […]

Grand-St-Bernard Pass

Grand-St-Bernard Pass

Grand-St-Bernard Pass is a gateway between Switzerland and Italy that has been used by travellers for thousands of years. But at an altitude of 2473 m (8114 ft) the weather can be very unpredictable, as I discovered last Saturday!  I travelled up to the Pass […]

Amiens Cathedral

Amiens Cathedral

Lausanne

Lausanne

Lausanne in situated on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). When I visited I headed straight for Lausanne Cathedral.  It is a very steep walk from the Lake up to the Cathedral.  But, well worth it as a tour of the city, and for […]

Romainmôtier Abbey

Romainmôtier Abbey

Romainmôtier Abbey is the oldest Romanesque Abbey still being used as a Reform Church in Switzerland. I first became aware of it because it is one of the cultural highlights when travelling the Swiss Via Francigena pilgrim route.  When I was staying in Lausanne, on […]

Crossing the English Channel at Dover

Crossing the English Channel at Dover

Via Francigena
White Cliffs of Dover

The Via Francigena begins at Canterbury and then continues to Dover in order to cross the English Channel to Calais in France.  It is a 20 mile walk which takes 7 to 8 hours and passes through the rolling hills and farmlands of Kent.  Local Kent produce can be sampled on the way!

Here is a sample of the tranquil farmlands typical of Kent countryside. Then, arriving at Dover, the White Cliffs provide a panoramic cliff walk.  In addition, the Dover Castle has much to offer and is especially stunning at sunset!

The Via Francigena begins at Canterbury Cathedral

The Via Francigena begins at Canterbury Cathedral

    The Via Francigena is an ancient medieval pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome. The itinerary is based on the journey made by Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 990 AD. He had travelled to Rome to receive his Pallium from the Pope. And, on […]