Unicorns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Jocelyn Murray May 13, 2013 No Comments

Tapestry The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the tapestries at The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City called, The Unicorn Is Penned, Unicorn Tapestries, c. 1495–1505

The Cloisters’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is turning 75. In honor of this diamond anniversary, unicorns will be present for a special exhibit. That’s right, unicorns! These are not just your ordinary variety of unicorn either. They hail from the late Middle Ages, and are represented by beautiful tapestries of landscapes portraying unicorn hunts. Seven such tapestries composed of silk and wool are included in the exhibit which will run for a limited time from May 15 to August 18, 2013.

The mythical unicorn has long been an intriguing creature that dates back to biblical times. A subject of art, religion and literature, this fabled beast has captured the imaginations of children and adults throughout the ages. These supposed naturally wild and fierce animals are believed to be tamable only by fair and honorable maidens who have the power to subdue them. They are noble, sensitive and tireless, but sweet as lambs in the presence of a virtuous lass. As such, the unicorn is a symbol of chastity and purity. And like the horns of other animals, the single spiraling horn that juts righteously from its forehead was thought to have medicinal and healing properties, at least in theory.

Perhaps it was the idea of this splendid creature that served as a kind of enchantment, rather than the creature itself, as is the case with much folklore, legends and myths.  Marvelous ideas that were woven into silken displays of hunting parties against a backdrop of mille-fleur (many tiny plants and flowers that served as a common tapestry theme during the Middle Ages), or an architectural background including gardens. These wall hangings were thought to do more than decorate the stone walls of the manors they graced. They were believed to inspire a kind of virtue and fellowship.

This is a great opportunity to visit The Cloisters: the fantastic division of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that focuses on Middle Age architecture and art. It is a chance to learn more about this mystical creature’s place in history and all that it symbolizes. It is also a wonderful occasion to see these stunning tapestries that have survived centuries in time, serving as a testament to human ingenuity and resourcefulness.  How exciting to get up close to a piece of the past and let the mind roam freely along the lush gardens depicted in the scenes. One can almost imagine the anticipation of those in the hunting party who believed they would trap the unicorn when it approached a fair damsel and laid its soft and velvety head on her lap, its long mane cascading over the grass. And how she would whisper sweetly to the creature as the hunters tip-toed to catch it and then take it to their own gardens to frolic.

Unicorn Metropolitan Museum of Art

These splendid mythical creatures have been immortalized in art, literature and poetry, heraldic banners, coats of arms, the cinema and more (photo © Catmando / Fotolia)

Although this magical beast never did exist except in the devoted imaginations of people in earlier times, it continues to flourish within art and literature, as do mermaids, fairies, elves and dragons, in the vast and ever-perplexing realm of the human mind.

While at the museum, guests can visit other branches of the Met, take tours, courses and workshops, or participate in the family programs designed for children ages 18 months to 12 years. Things like storytime, art projects, and many other programs are sure to inspire kids and their parents about the wonderful creative world in which we live.

The Cloisters Museum and Gardens is located at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York, New York 10040. For more information visit www.metmuseum.org


avatarAbout the Author:

Jocelyn Murray is a travel writer and historical fiction novelist. She holds two university master's degrees in both English and Education, along with a bachelor's degree in Economics and European Studies. She also has a teaching credential and taught at the elementary school level.

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