Cavallo, Adolfo Salvatore. Medieval Tapestries in
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993.
Cavallo, Adolfo Salvatore. The Unicorn Tapestries.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Have students take on the poses and expressions
of the hunters and animals in the tapestry; some
students could even represent trees and bushes.
What is the focus of the composition and how has
the artist of the design created this focus? Have
each student choose a person or animal, then
have them explain the scene from the point of
view of that person or animal.
Ask your students to explain their reasons for
thinking that this is a single tapestry that stands
alone, or one that is part of a series of hangings.
Have them imagine that they are up in the castle
tower in the background. Ask them to either draw
or write what they would see of this scene from
that point of view.
Discuss with your students: How is this scene
linked to medieval hunting? To the concept of
marriage? To aspects of Christianity?
SchoolArts November 2006
close to the weavers while the unwoven
warps were unrolled from the other beam.
When completed, the tapestry was removed
from the loom; the beginning and finishing
edges were stitched; straps to support the
tapestry’s weight were sewn on the back
along with a lining; and rings or hooks were
attached at the top.
The Unicorn Is Found tapestry is one
of the famous seven Unicorn Tapestries
hanging at The Cloisters, The Metropolitan
Museum’s branch of medieval art. On one
level, the complex iconography of the series
recounts the legend of the unicorn, a mythical creature believed both to have a magical
horn that could purify poisoned water and
powers that could be neutralized only by a
virgin. Symbolically, the series represents
love and marriage—notice the various pairs
of male and female animals here—and, in a
Christian interpretation, retells the story of
Christ’s suffering, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.
Here, surrounded by twelve hunters, the
unicorn seems to be purifying a poisoned
stream with his horn, a hypothesis supported by the presence of such plants as pot
marigold under the hyena’s chin, the medlar
tree to the left of the fountain, the blue-flow-ered sage in front of the fountain, and an
orange tree in the lower right corner of the
tapestry. All stand close to the stream and
all were used as antidotes to poison in the
Middle Ages. The precision with which the
plants are represented attests to the designer’s careful observation. In fact, out of a total
of 101 species of plants represented in all
seven of the Unicorn Tapestries, more than
eighty-five percent have been identified.
Dr. Michael Norris, associate museum educator,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The legend of the unicorn inspired weavers throughout
northern Europe, including this example from the Netherlands. Above: “A mon seul desir.” (To My One Desire)
Detail of central group. From the series of six Lady and
the Unicorn Tapestries. Woven in the Netherlands based
on cartoons made in Paris, between 1484 and 1500. Photo:
Hugo Maertens. Musée du Moyen Age (Cluny), Paris,
France. Photo Credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art
later, wrapped around small wooden bobbins),
was passed through the separated warp threads,
called a weaving shed, which the weaver then
compacted down onto the undyed warps with
a comb-like tool. As the weaving progressed,
the woven tapestry was rolled around the beam