THE LADY and the UNICORN by Tracy Chevalier
Tracy Chevalier’s story of “The Lady and the Unicorn” is woven around the 6 famous tapestries (now housed in their own space in Paris’s Musee de Moyen Age.) Considered to be the greatest masterpiece of the medieval ages, they portray the seduction of a unicorn by a series of noblewomen.
The senses- sight, hearing, taste and smell are depicted in the first 5 weavings…the 6th depicts desire. Chevalier’s imaginative and inspiring story, (previously unknown,) weaves fact and fiction to help unfold how, why and for whom these tapestries were created…filling in a background that has sadly been lost to history “The Lady and the Unicorn,” takes place in 1490.
There are actually a few known facts about this group of weavings, thought to have been commissioned by a member of the Le Viste family… French nobility. Designed by a Parisian painter, Nicholas des Innocents, there are, pressed within its folds, the desires, loves and frustrations of all those involved in their production. Artists, cartoonists, dyers, weavers, seamstresses and financiers were all part of the series. The novel tells the story of two families…one, a noble family in Paris and the other, the family of weavers in Brussels, Belgium (then, Flanders, where the finest weaving of the time was performed.) Nicholas and the tapestries are the connection between the two families.
The author’s research on the history of tapestries was all-encompassing. Everything was very well documented …from exactly how a tapestry was made to the usual way a Belgian workshop was organized and run. Chevalier creates and shapes a sense of the lives and relationships lived by a handful of not-so simple people in a snapshot of time! The sections of the book most interesting to me were the descriptions of the Belgian family who wove the tapestries…from the design cartoons (enlargements from original paintings) that guided their art, the way they set up and used the looms, the importance of the guilds in setting and enforcing the standards for their craft to the way they lived among the looms and threads used in their work. Every chapter of the book was a perspective of a different character so you felt what each person involved was feeling…knew what they were thinking.
In “The Lady and the Unicorn,” Tracy Chevalier’s gift as a wordsmith tells a beautiful, timeless and intriguing literary tapestry proving that she’s more than just a good writer but also a good weaver of medieval tales with historical significance. LOVED IT!!!