Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Thoughts of Captive Unicorns

In 1986 I had the opportunity to travel to New York city and while there, spend a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It was the most glorious day and what a feast for the senses...inspiration everywhere which is what you would expect from a museum ranked in the top ten in the world.

 For me, the real pleasure was visiting the area called The Cloisters and viewing the magnificent tapestries hanging there. I was in awe of these tapestries, the size of them filling walls, and the beautiful work each entailed. I imagined the people back in the fifteenth century who had to work out the designs, the dying of the threads and then the weavers themselves creating such masterpieces.  Rockefeller paid one million dollars for the group in 1922; I guess their value today is simply priceless.

One in particular was my favourite (and I understand it is the most popular), The Unicorn in Captivity.  The unicorn is sitting in a field of flowers chained to a small tree with a tiny fence surrounding him.  There are numerous plants depicted with such botanical accuracy that they have all been named and include orchids, carnations, thistle, pomegranates and lilies.  Many of these plants were not just loved for their beauty but also used for medicinal purposes in those times.  We bought a poster print of this tapestry and later had it framed; it was always a wonderful remembrance of the trip.

This wonderful picture is available in many forms for stitchers too.
  Below is a cross stitch pattern from  The Scarlet Quince. This is a wonderful site to visit if you like to work more detailed pieces.  They have a large catalogue of artists' works as well as beautiful contemporary patterns to drool over.

Perhaps the unicorn is more popular as a needlepoint project though.  The famous needlework artist, Erica Wilson, has designed a set of patterns labelled The Cloisters Collection all adapted from works in the museum.

 I remember eyeing one such kit in the museum gift shop and being very tempted.  We joked at the time that it would be a project to take me into retirement, such a far off time it seemed, something to laugh about.  Well, here I am! 

 This is Erica's needlepoint kit for a cushion.  Lovely shades.


 If you are interested in learning more, you can visit the  The Metropolitan Museum Web Site.  
I like to check it out from time to time and also love the gift store section.

 On  Youtube  you can watch this video  from Smart History that features two art historians, Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, talking quite informatively about the tapestries.