• Spike Deane

The Lady and the Unicorn


After a few false starts I finally got to the Art Gallery of NSW to see the 'The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries'. The first attempt was delayed one weekend when I had a printing overload at office works pre AFTS conference and the next involved the car breaking down a mere few km's away from the gallery. Unfortunately we spent the next 3 hours waiting for the NRMA to help us out of a tight spot and the next morning was rather tense as we tried to get the car fixed before going to the gallery. I ended up doing a makeshift fix on the turbo pipe hose clip until we could get home to Canberra.

So enough about almost getting there! Eventually, just a few days before the exhibition closed I had a ticket and I was through the door. Why was I so desperate to see only 6 tapestries? As the AGNSW catalogue states "Created around 1500, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries have been the subject of literary inspiration, scholarly speculation and wonder ever since." The imagery of these tapestries has been with me for so long that it is hard to know where I would have first seen it. As a teenagerI loved the idea of medieval romance (much Camelot inspired reading) and I adored the costumes and fantastic beats. This was the late 90's so I would have seen imagery mainly in books and magazines... not so much Pinterest. I couldn't not see the real thing!

It was a wonderful experience, enhanced by the exhibition format and displays. To be able to get up close and understand the true scale and sequence was fantastic. The exhibition was dimly lit and rather full, so I only made a few sketches. In one moment a young couple stood in front of 'My Sole Desire' tweaking a memory of what I thought was a short story. I managed to get a quick scribble of the pair before they moved on.

One mental image that has stuck with me for 20 or so years is a short 'segue' in Isobelle Carmody's Darkfall book 1 of the 'The Legendsong Series'... not a short story after all!

In this little interlude 2 street kids visit the Musée De Cluny to get out of the cold after someone gives them free tickets. The attendant in the room sees himself as the defender and protector of the tapestries and can't bear that the 'grubby young couple' get to look at such loveliness. This section has stayed with me because it is so sad.. beauty, vulnerability, hope and loneliness thread through their visit before the watcher moves on.

So I decided to mash together my sketch and my imagining of text in Carmody's book. However the young couple I sketched seemed to be enjoying themselves and the attendant on that day I visited was a delightful Yorkshire gent... nothing like the man in Carmody's novel.

#exhibition #Unicorns

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