DescriptionThe Unicorn Tapestries in collection of The Cloisters are renowned for their beauty and botanical accuracy. The tapestries depict the hunt of the Unicorn, a mythical creature first mentioned by the Greek physician Ctesias in the fourth century B.C. In the Middle Ages the animal was known for its supposed invincibility and the therapeutic property of its horn. The design on the Museum’s tie is based on one of these medieval hangings, The Unicorn in Captivity (South Netherlandish, ca. 1495–1505).
Available in green, navy, or red. Silk twill. Imported. 3 5/8''W.
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Art HistoryThe seven individual hangings, known as The Unicorn Tapestries, are among the most beautiful and complex works of art from the late Middle Ages that survive. Luxuriously woven in fine wool and silk with silver and gilded threads, the tapestries vividly depict scenes associated with a hunt for the elusive, magical unicorn. The Unicorn in Captivity may have been created as a single image rather than part of a series. In this instance, the unicorn likely represents the beloved tamed. As such he is tethered to a tree and constrained by a fence, but the chain is not secure and the fence is low enough to leap over, so the unicorn could escape if he wished. His confinement is a happy one, to which the ripe seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a medieval symbol of fertility and marriage—testify. The red stains on his flank do not appear to be blood, as there are no visible wounds similar to those in the hunting series; rather, they represent juice dripping from bursting pomegranates above. Many of the other plants represented here, such as wild orchid, bistort, and thistle, echo this theme of marriage and procreation; they were acclaimed in the Middle Ages as fertility aids for both men and women. Even the little frog, nestled among the violets at the lower right, was cited by medieval writers for its noisy mating.