16 November 2015

Unicorns and Cultural Appropriation

The Unicorn in Captivity from The Hunt of the Unicorn; Southern Netherlandish; 1475-1500
The Unicorn in Captivity is a tapestry from the Middle Age. Made in the Southern Netherlands, it is one of seven hangings that tell the popular medieval story of the The Hunt of the Unicorn. In the story, the only one to catch the unicorn would be a female virgin. So, a village sends out a young girl to lure in the unicorn. As the unicorn lays its head in her lap, some men from the village jump out and capture it, kill and bring it back to the village. The tapestry above is the last one in the series, so the unicorn should be dead, but it seems perfectly content to be there.

This is a cultural tapestry, telling a story that was important to people in the area it was made in. There a two common approaches to thinking about this tapestry series. One is it could be a representational story telling of the life and death of Jesus. It might also be talking about marriage. At this time, pomegranates, orchids and other plants that are included in this tapestry were thought to improve fertility. The happy captive unicorn is sometimes thought to be like a person in a marriage- content to be in the confines of love. Both religion and families were things that people held close to in a rather dark and trying time in European history.
Unicorn by Ybryksenkova on Etsy
These tapestries are in really good shape to be about 540 years old and they tell an important story to the people who made them. They were probably really special. So, I wonder if they would be upset about the cultural appropriation going on with their artwork. I have seen several artist renditions of The Unicorn in Captivity on Etsy as of late. On a more mass production scale, there is currently an upholstered headboard at World Market that has an extremely similar motif to the unicorn tapestry series. I like the idea of good art always being relevant. Being relatable to current life here on Earth. Everything that is old becomes new again.
Upholstered headboard from World Market

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