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The Lady and the Unicorn

In the Musée de Cluny in Paris hang six stunning and enigmatic medieval tapestries. Known collectively as The Lady and the Unicorn, the tapestries feature a lion, a unicorn, and a beautiful young woman. Five of the tapestries seem to tell a story of the five senses: Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing and Sight. But what is the story? And the sixth tapestry, Mon Seul Désir, My One Desire, with the young woman, a tent, and a box of jewels: what to make of that? Philip Coulter investigates a 600-year-old mystery.
Listen to the full episode53:57

In the Musée de Cluny in Paris hang six stunning and enigmatic medieval tapestries. Known collectively as The Lady and the Unicorn, the tapestries feature a lion, a unicorn, and a beautiful young woman. Five of the tapestries seem to tell a story of the five senses: Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing and Sight. But what is the story? And the sixth tapestry, Mon Seul Désir, My One Desire, with the young woman, a tent, and a box of jewels: what to make of that? Philip Coulter investigates a 600-year-old mystery. **This episode originally aired January 11, 2016.


The tapestries are postcards from the past, a glimpse into the world of the late-15th century, a world at once strange to us, yet still very familiar.

They tell a story, and the characters include a young woman and her maidservant, as well as a lion and a unicorn and a host of small animals: rabbits, monkeys, foxes, lambs, dogs; as well as birds of all sorts: magpies, herons, falcons, partridge. There are trees: pine, holly, oak; and flowers: milkwort, fleabane, marigold, violets. All the beauty of the natural world is here, telling a tale that is both clear to our eyes and also profoundly strange.

Who were these people?  What's the story they are telling about themselves in this vast work of art?  And what does it tell us today about ourselves?
 

Participants in the program:

  • Catherine Bernard, Art Historian 

  • Elizabeth Delahaye, Director of the Musée de Cluny

  • Beatrice de Chancel, Curator at the Musée de Cluny
     
  • Elizabeth Antoine, Curator at the Louvre Museum and former curator at the Musée de Cluny


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