Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Unicorns and other creatures

Part of the Cloisters Unicorn tapestry

While reading the classic King of Elfland's Daugher, by Lord Dunsany, I came across the unicorn, again. It figured prominently before (or rather after) in Neil Geiman's Stardust, and got me interested in the subject. That is why, while in NYC, I decided to go back to the Cloisters museum and check out their famous tapestry as well as the current unicorn exhibit all over again.

It was interesting to learn that the horns of the unicorns became very popular relics during the Middle Ages for kings and churches to keep. They were actually the tusks of narwhals, arctic whales not familiar to the Europeans then. These tusks grew from 1.5 to 3 meters in length and served as the artifacts justifying the unicorn legend over the years. In medieval times, believed to come from the unicorns, the tusks were said to cure poison and melancholia, and provided a great trading opportunity for Vikings, that bought them from Inuits, and sold them to crazed European monarchs for a small fortune.

Cloisters, a beautiful part of the Metropolitan museum in New York, hosts the Unicorn tapestries, the gift of John Rockefeller. These are seven tapestries telling a surreal story of the hunt for the unicorn by adrenaline-filled hunters - a vivid reminder of the scenes from the Lord Dunsany's novel. Although mentioned by Greeks, Jews, and Arabs, Christians have been interpreting unicorn as a symbol for Christ's suffering, and that is one of the possible allegories for this particular tapestry. An enchanting visit!

Enjoying the "art minute" at the Cloisters

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