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By Lucy McNabb
February 15, 2018

The Lady and the Unicorn

Check out the 'Mona Lisa of the Middle Ages' at the Art Gallery of NSW.
By Lucy McNabb
February 15, 2018

in partnership with


Touring outside of France for just the third time since it was designed in Paris circa 1500, medieval masterpiece The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry cycle comes to the Art Gallery of New South Wales this month and everyone's pretty excited.

On special loan from impressively named Musèe de Cluny – Musèe National du Moyen Âge, the six exquisitely beautiful, mind-blowingly intricate wool and silk woven tapestries span over 20 metres in length and are considered to be some of the greatest surviving textiles from the European Middle Ages — the French national treasure has been dubbed the 'Mona Lisa of the Middle Ages', after all. (Can you imagine being in charge of packing these things up and getting them to — literally — the other side of the world? No pressure.) Embodying meditations on earthly pleasure and courtly love, they depict a bejewelled lady in richly adorned costume alongside a majestic unicorn set against a luscious millefleur ('thousand flowers') background. Five tapestries explore the senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, with the sixth said to represent an internal sense — usually interpreted as the heart, desire or understanding.

There's a whole host of talks, activities and workshops designed to complement the exhibition (textile fans may want to take Natalie Miller's tapestry masterclass) so you can make an entire morning or an afternoon of it. Take note: this is going to be busy. It's not every day that you get to see a 15th-century national treasure up close, not to mention one that has directly inspired everyone from George Sand to Rilke to Jean Cocteau. You'll want to book ahead.


Image: Sight c1500 (detail), from 'The lady and the unicorn' series, Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris Photo © RMN-GP / M Urtado.

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