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Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence

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Enlarge The Unicorn Defends Itself
From a set of four (or more) pieces of the Hunt of the Unicorn
Design and cartoon attributed to the Paris workshop of the Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany
Woven in an unknown workshop, the southern Netherlands, ca. 1495–1505
Wool, silk, and silver- and gilt-metal-wrapped thread; 12 ft. 7/8 in. x 13 ft. 1 7/8 in. (368 x 401 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.4)

The unicorn struggling against capture in a forest clearing is at one level a fantastic version of a popular medieval activity, but a Christian theme is suggested by the huntsman with a horn at the left. He wears a scabbard inscribed AVEREGINAC (Hail, Queen of Heaven), the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, according to a well-known hymn of the time. Medieval allegorical texts representing the Passion of Christ as a unicorn hunt often cast Gabriel as the participant in the Mystical Hunt who drove Christ into Mary's womb. Some hounds wear wide collars inscribed with the letters A and E, which hang from the central apple tree. The letters may allude to the tapestries' patron or to the theme of Christ's sacrifice to redeem the original sin of Adam and Eve.

The design of these tapestries recalls that of manuscript illuminations and book illustrations produced in the 1490s in the workshop of the Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany. The excellent weaving and materials invite comparison with the high-quality production increasingly found in Brussels at this time. The Parisian character of the design, similar ciphers on other panels made for French patrons, and documented presence of the tapestries in Paris in 1680 have led to the assumption that the set was commissioned by a French patron.


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