At the heart of symbolism

Lady with the UnicornTouch and Sight


The lady alone

The tapestries Touch and Sight mark the beginning and the end of the cycle of the five senses crowned by a “sixth” one. They differ from the three others (Taste, Smell and Hearing) by a sober composition, a scene restricted to the Lady only and the presence of two out of four trees in Sight.

The two senses are notably illustrated by the attitude of the Lady.

In sense of Touch:

The Lady holds the banner in her right hand and the horn of the mythical animal in her left hand. On the left of the banner, a monkey is scratching himself.

In sense of Sight:

The Lady holds a mirror in her right hand and strokes the animal with her left hand. On the left of the banner again, a lion cub and a rabbit are observing each other.

The Lady is clothed in a blue velvet dress in Touch and a gilded fabric with a rolled-up red back in Sight. The passage from the cool colour of the night (blue) to the luminous and warm colours of the day (red and gold) reflects the gradation of the senses in the hierarchy generally spread in the Middle Ages.

In both pieces, the Lady is adorned with jewels. A necklace made of rings or twists carries pearls in pendants. The dress, the belt and the hairstyle are equally embellished with pearls, especially in Touch. Note that within each of these pieces, the hairstyle of the Lady ends with a braid in an egret form looking like the horn of the mythical animal.

The Lady has a faraway look in her eyes in Touch whereas she contemplates the unicorn observing its own reflection in the mirror in Sight. The mirror itself is a magnificent goldsmith piece surrounded by leaves trimmed with blue pearls.

When the unicorn observes itself in the mirror, it focuses its look in the direction of the lion that diverts his eyes as if he was not (or no more) concerned. Its reflection looks towards itself as if it stood at the place of the lion. In other words, the mirror corresponds to the image of the passage from one world to another, from the lunar sphere to the solar one, from the world of the ordinary, indeed human being, to the world of the spiritual being. Crossing the mirror signifies to turn away from the senses and to turn towards the heart to give the being all his meaning.

In this elevation of the senses from Touch to Sight, we can only be struck by the important place devoted to animals. In fact, man shares with animals the five senses and to find them in the five first tapestries and even in the sixth one should not astonish us. Indeed, the people of the Middle Ages were always curious about the animal. Of course, animals were generally recognized as submitted, imperfect, indeed impure, but nevertheless it left a feeling of community between man and the living, notably with domesticated quadrupeds.

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