If you visit Sydney, Australia, and go to the Art Gallery of New South Wales you will most likely see paintings like this Ouse river scene by John Glover. Glover was born in England but died in Tasmania. This museum also has many fine Aboriginal paintings. We went there with a dear friend from Canberra named Lynette to see a temporary exhibit from France. Called “The Lady and the Unicorn, it was truly excellent.
I have not been a big fan of tapestries. Most of them in museums are old and faded. This series was old but not faded because these tapestries have been restored several times, most recently in 2013. The colors, especially the reds, are quite vivid. The unknown artist used around 30 different colors and shades. Who designed these tapestries is just one of the mysteries surrounding these works of art created about the time the Middle Ages ended and the Renaissance began. What is known is that they were designed in Paris around 1500 AD when tapestry making was at its peak. The woman’s nickname is “The Mona Lisa of the Middle Ages”.
The well-dressed lady in the 6 tapestries poses with a lion and a unicorn in each panel. They are surrounded by plants, flowers, other animals, etc. Everything is symbolic but the overall meaning is one of the mysteries. Many experts say that they celebrate the 5 senses. In one of the tapestries the lady is playing a positive organ. In another she takes a treat from a bowl to feed a pet parrot. The problem with this theory is that there are six tapestries in this series. The 6th sense, therefore, is called “My sole desire”. Another theory is that they celebrate the stages of female development because the subject ages.
What is known for sure is that that these tapestries show the coat of arms of the Le Viste family, and that they hung in a castle, Chateau de Boussac, in central France in their early years. They disappeared for a long time and were rediscovered in the middle of the 19th century. After they were sold to France in 1882, they were moved to the Musée de Cluny in Paris, their current home. It is also known that the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Australian Government were thrilled to exhibit them temporarily to boost this State’s economy. This did happen. We were part of a large crowd the day we saw them.
However, these tapestries return to France after June 24, 2018. You will more than likely not get to see them in Sydney. When I see something temporary, I don’t usually write about it unless it is traveling further. However these tapestries are so sensational that I asked the staff of the museum what will happen after they return and was assured that they will be on permanent display almost immediately at the Musée de Cluny. The reason why its staff let them travel to Australia for this one-shot exhibit is because they are updating the museum while they are away. So go see them…in Paris.