Currently displayed at the “Musee du Moyen Age” in Paris.
The tapestry was made partly to emphasize the status of the donor, Jean Le Viste, a friend of King Chas. VII, showing his flags and coats of arms, signs of his nobility , plus it is filled with religious symbolism related to the idea of chivalry and the 5 senses. In some of the details in the next pages, you will see the many animals, plants and flowers woven into the background. This is called the “millefleurs” technique. It was common among the weavers of Brussels. Above is the scene for the sense of “Sight”. The lady holds a mirror with a reflection of the unicorn. It had both secular and religious significance.
Detail of the scene for “Sight”
This shows us how the unicorn places his paws across the lap of the Virgin. Many have related this to the idea of a Pieta---the scene where the Virgin Mary holds the dead Christ across her lap.
This kind of merging of the ordinary with spiritual meaning was quite common during the Medieval era.
The mirror in Medieval symbolism usually is associated with the idea of vanity, but here it is difficult to interpret. It may represent a contrast of good (the unicorn) against evil, and a lack of morality.
On the right is another detail from the tapestry of “ Sight ”. It is seen just to the right of the unicorn. It is a lamb, and the pose of the front paws make it evident that is is symbolic of prayer and is meant to represent the “Lamb of God” or the sacrificial Christ.
Also notice the rabbit, typically symbolic of fertility. Again it is possible that we have a contrast of good and immorality.
The Sense of Taste
This scene of the sense of “Taste” depicts the lady, often associated with the purity of the Virgin Mary, holding a candy dish into which the she dips her hand.
In her other hand she holds a parakeet.
Details of the Scene of “Taste” What is the meaning of the candy dish and the parakeet? The parakeet is easier to explain. Some believe it is a symbol of watchfulness and surveillance. A talking parrot may warn one about deception. It would fit in this sense, if we think of the parakeet protecting the chastity of the virgin. Candy obviously, would symbolize delight and a more transient pursuit.
One novelist,Tracy Chevalier who has done extensive research on the tapestries describes the allegory in this way: “The tapestries can be interpreted several ways – as a virgin seducing a unicorn, as a woman renouncing the physical world of the senses for the spiritual world, as the Virgin Mary with Christ. The first is the most popular interpretation, and refers to the old belief that the unicorn is so wild it cannot be tamed, except by a virgin. If she sits in the woods, the unicorn will come and lay its head in her lap.
Following are some web sites that will help you to interpret the animals and other symbols.