Cluny Museum: The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries

Touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. These six tapestries, woven in around 1500, represent the five senses against a detailed red background.

The remaining sixth sense, explained only by the inscription “À mon seul désir” (To my only desire), has inspired countless theories. Without excluding a possible meaning in the register of courtly love, it could be a reference to free will: the woman with her decorative headdress and refined clothing, renouncing temporal pleasures.

These “millefleurs” (“thousand flowers”) tapestries are characterized by an abundance of flora, including flowers, orange trees, pines, hollies and oaks, and are inhabited by a peaceable bestiary (a monkey, dogs, rabbits and a heron).  In this idyllic natural setting conducive to contemplation, the unicorn by turns a participant and a simple spectator. Accompanied by a lion, it sports the coat of arms of the Le Viste family in every scene.

The Lady and the Unicorn wall-hanging was acquired in 1882. It is now considered one of the great masterpieces of Western art.