Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Lady and the Unicorn

"The Lady and the Unicorn" (French: La Dame à la licorne), also called the Tapestry Cycle, is the title of a series of six Flemish tapestries depicting the senses. They are estimated to have been woven in the late 15th century in the style of mille-fleurs.

The lady depicted in the tapestry called Taste, is conjectured to have been Blanche of Lancaster (1345-1369), 1st wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Blanche was the daughter of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and his wife, Isabel de Beaumont. Her paternal great-great-grandfather was Henry III of England. Dying of the plague in 1369, Blanche was said to have had blue eyes, fair hair and skin, and a calm and serene demeanor. She was living in Bolingbroke Castle at the time of her death, while her husband was away. Her funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral in London was preceded with a magnificent cortege attended by most of the nobility and clergy. John of Gaunt held annual commemorations of her death for some years thereafter.

Though some scholars disagree, it is widely held that Gaunt's grief over the death of his duchess was immortalized by Chaucer in his work, The Booke of the Duchess.  See:

In the tapestry, the lion and the unicorn frame the Lady who, eyes turned towards a parrot in her right hand, is taking a sweet from the candy dish offered to her by her servant. Her little dog follows her every move; at her feet a leering monkey, eating a berry or a candy, highlights the significance of the scene.

Blanche's daughter, Elizabeth (wife of John Holand, 1st Duke of Exeter), is an ancestor of my "gateway" forebear, Capt. Philip Nelson of Rowley, Massachusetts.

Source: Musee de Nationale de Moyen Age,

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