When I arrived at the Cloisters, I immediately went for the Unicorn Tapestries (after all, I’d seen the Lewis Chessmen only a few months ago). It was near the end of the day, so the museum wasn’t very crowded. I wandered around, reading about the tapestries and such, and then moved on, exploring other parts of the Cloisters.
Before leaving, however, I decided to go back to the tapestries for one last look. That was when I noticed that a tour had just arrived in this section. Smooth as I am, I integrated myself into the group. I’m pretty sure the tour was free, but I decided to sneak in anyway.
Nobody knows who wove the tapestries or who they were for, although the consensus is that Anne of Brittany commissioned them (to celebrate her marriage to the King of France – Louis XII).
There’s some doubt as to whether all the tapestries belong together. While the above 3 are very similar, others don’t quite fit. The top picture has a mille-fleur background (translates to “thousand flowers”), which is similar to the tapestry of “The Unicorn is in Captivity and No Longer Dead”:
And then there’s the whole theory of how the unicorn can only be tamed by a virgin, which is briefly spotted in a smaller tapestry “The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn”:
Basically they send in a virgin and the unicorn goes to her, puts its head in her lap, and then the hunters set the dogs on the unicorn. Apparently the unicorn is reborn after it’s death, so it’s a happy ending!
I would recommend doing the tour at the Cloisters – especially for the Unicorn Tapestries. As you can see, the tapestries are huge. There’s so much detail in them and the history is really interesting.