Today’s post was written by Betty.
The picture above is one of a series of six tapestries entitled “The Lady and the Unicorn,” which were woven of silk and wool in Flanders toward the end of the 15th century. Embroidered on the top of the tent in this tapestry are the French words “A Mon Seul Desir,” which has become the title of this one. It has been translated in several different ways – “my one/sole desire,” “according to my desire alone,” “by my will alone,” and “love desires only beauty of soul.” Some interpretations see this tapestry representing love or virginity. The other tapestries represent the five senses: touch, sound, smell, sight, taste, and are titled as such. It has also been suggested that this tapestry could represent a sixth sense, that of understanding. The tapestries were rediscovered in 1841 in Broussac Castle where they had been stored without regard to climate change, causing damage. They were later restored nearly to their former glory, and are currently on display at Musee de Cluny, also known as Musee national du Moyen Age in Paris.
Lauren makes reference to the Lady and the Unicorn when Robert is talking to Charlotte about her childhood game of hunting unicorns. On page 46, he says, “You look like a lady in a medieval tapestry. All you need is the unicorn at your feet.”
Since I was familiar with these tapestries and had read another book about them, I decided to research them further. They were created in the mille fleur style, meaning thousand flowers, which was a popular motif in the Middle Ages. It refers to a background made of many small flowers and plants. The common denominator to all of the tapestries is that the unicorn is to the lady’s left, and the lion is to her right. Medieval symbolism was used heavily in art at the time, and referring to a chart of symbolism, I found the following information. The unicorn has the trait of a single horn and its behavior is interpreted as savage or loyal. It symbolized Christ, purity, and being invincible. The lion’s trait is “the king of beasts” with its behavior being strong. It symbolizes courage, strength, and faithfulness. Considering this, of course my mind wandered to our main characters, Charlotte and Robert. I hadn’t thought much about a character trait connection to these tapestries when I first read this book, but it is on my mind now. Do you feel any of these traits represent them? It is always exciting to me when art or other literary references are brought into a book. This also reminds of Lauren’s That Summer, with its heavy art influence. Of course I don’t know what Lauren intended in this book, but it is certainly interesting to think about. Here are all six tapestries as discussed on Tracy Chevalier’s website. She is the author of The Lady and the Unicorn, which I read in 2007.
You can easily see the positioning of the unicorn and lion as described earlier. In our story, Robert’s reference to Charlotte having a unicorn at her feet makes me think of the ‘sight’ tapestry. Do you think Robert represents the unicorn? Is he to be tamed by Charlotte? Charlotte definitely fits the role of virgin from the descriptions given of her in this and previous books.
On page 47, at the end of their meeting together, Charlotte tells Robert how glad she is to have him back. Robert agrees, but then begins to think about how he is intending to become involved with unscrupulous people. His thoughts about not being deserving of Charlotte’s admiration made me think of this scene as a contrast in light and dark. Charlotte represents goodness and light, whereas the members of the Hellfire Club represent darkness and evil. In Robert’s own words, “the sour smell of port, and the hideous dark holes being burned in his soul,” come from the Hellfire Club. He has also felt guilty about leaving Charlotte so long ago. What are your thoughts regarding the tapestries and their part in the book?
If you are interested in further reading based on “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, I would recommend Tracy Chevalier’s book of the same title. Tracy is also the author of Girl With the Pearl Earring, a book based on the art of Vermeer.