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Musée de Cluny: La Dame à la licorne

A slight diversion away from my Louvre adventures. The day before that nine hour stint, I bussed part-way then walked in completely the wrong direction. Turned 90º, walked, found myself in the rain by Notre Dame, backtracked for one last shot, saw a gap in street façades that looked like it might contain a museum, found myself in a side street off a side street and took myself into Musée de Cluny: Musée national du Moyen Âge. Mediæval art here we come!

The rest of the museum is for another post. In one extremely dim room were six large tapestries—not huge acreages, but pretty bloody big. The images of the tapestries you can see on the museum’s website, and their known history and restoration you can grab as pdfs. My images are probably fairly approximate when it comes to colour, and the lighting created hot spots in the centre and murky vignetting. I imagine when they were first created the colours were rich and vibrant, the patterns like optical illusions.

La Dame à la licorne. Five tapestries devoted to the senses, and the remaining sixth to “Mon seul désir”. Which is suggested is either a metaphor for “the ‘inner’ sense, the Heart, in both a philosophical and human understanding, as either a call to the viewer to rise above material pleasures or as a coded tribute to physical love.” I think it’s pretty obvious it’s all about the Dame’s fetching Lady-in-waiting. Or her toy dog. Or her freaky getting-it-on with her unicorn friend. Nope. It’s definitely her companion. I like to believe that this woman five hundred years ago was so fond of her consort that she had these tapestries made as proof of her love—maybe only for those who could properly decipher the broad hints. Courtly love. Whatever love. Sure the Dame is throwing her jewels in a chest held by this other, but the only place either of their eyes are looking is into each other’s. And the flaps of the pavilion of Her Heart’s Desire are certainly being held open by the lion and unicorn for them to enter, then to be released, so what happens within is hidden from view—from all the viewer’s senses. Look at the unicorn’s expression, it’s totally jubilant and the only time the lion is mouth open in excitement is when Lady and Companion are in a mirroring situation when they’re feeding the parakeet in Le Goût.

Serious-serious now (I am being serious in hoping this is a sextet of two babes in love, but also know I’m likely in the minority on this one, despite the above quote from the museum) the work is splendid and rich in detail, almost magical with the background of millefleur, floating as they are, untethered on their small circle of land with only a lion and unicorn for company—and the multitudes of birds, animals, flowers, fruit, trees … and their small dog … each day enjoying the senses together. Definitely they are getting it on.