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Lady with Unicorn: Sense of Eternity
September 23rd, 2008

I’ve been working on the next Lady with Unicorn now for, oh, forever.  Weeks.  I’m not sure if this one (it’s Sense of Touch) is in worse shape than the others or if my standards are getting higher.  You can see in this picture that there’s a large area at the bottom that is faded or stained.  There’s an area to the left of the lady which also seems abraded — maybe damage where the tapestry was folded for a long time.

Lady with Uncorn: Sense of Touch

What you can’t see at this size is that there is just a lot of discoloration and spottiness everywhere.  The red was originally a uniform color, I’m sure, and I hope to be able to get it back to something resembling that.  It won’t be absolutely uniform — part of the tapestry look is the color variations — but on the other hand, there shouldn’t be 100 reds.  I didn’t do this for Sense of Hearing or Sense of Taste but have had something of a change in philosophy since then: to the extent possible, I think the cross stitch patterns should reflect the art as it was originally created. Obviously there can be technical problems with doing that, as well as with knowing how it once looked. But, for example, paintings have a tendency to turn yellow and/or darken with time, and fabric fades (especially greens and blues). Yellowed and faded colors can be fixed; dark colors that have turned black can’t. Once the detail disappears, it’s gone (until the original painting is cleaned).

Another thing that is odd about all these tapestries is that they’re darker at the top than the bottom (aside from the faded areas).  This may be due to problems with photographing something this large, although you would think that they would have set up good lights.

The New Yorker had an interesting article a while back about photographing the Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters.  They took them down to wash and repair the backing and photographed them while they were soaking (they had made a tub big enough to soak them flat).  They photographed them in sections, thinking that the sections would be easy to tile together, but it turned out that the tapestries were creeping the whole time they were in water.  They ended up hiring a couple of mathematicians who used a supercomputer to put the pictures together.  You can read the article here.

4 Responses to “Lady with Unicorn: Sense of Eternity”
  1. From Vibeke Olason
    12 years, 4 months ago

    I went to see the original tapestries in Paris this spring. They are truly amasing, but not in a very good condition. The lower part of the tapestries had been repaired severel times, starting in the 19′th century, because of damage done by moist and mice!

    The reconstructed/repaired parts have a lighter colour so that it shuld be eviedet what repairs have been done in “modern” times, and I believe it is these parts that give you problems.

    The tapestries are wonderful works of art even in their present state, and I’m pleased that you are willing to take on the work required to transform them into patterns. The tapestries are among my favourites, and I hope to get around to stitching them one day, but at the presnet I’m happily working away on smaller portraits.

    I also find myself hoarding more patterns than I can possible find time for, but they are so nice (I even “read” them in bed at night), and I suppose you dont mind there being small Scartet Quince librarys around ;D

    Btw, are you aware that your “Taste” is a mirror image of the original?

    regards, Vibeke

    I found out that “Taste” was reversed after I did it. The tops of the trees are cut off too. “Hearing” is also slightly cropped all the way around. *sigh*

    I knew that the Cluny tapestries had been used to keep potatoes from freezing which is probably how they got most of the damage, but it’s also probably the reason they survived at all — someone found a use for them. It’s hard to believe anything so beautiful, with so much work in them, could be considered “old rags”. Another set was rescued for $2.40 from a family who was using them for a door mat. During the French revolution, all tapestries with royal insignia (probably any badges of nobility) had that part cut off. And apparently after they were mutilated a lot of them were just thrown out.

  2. From Alanna
    12 years, 3 months ago

    Congratulations, Meredith on bringing another of the lovely Lady & Unicorns to us! I absolutely adhere to your new-found philosophy of trying to retore as much of the original artwork as possible, you are in your own way doing some important art restoration work! The tapestries are indeed in a very bad shape, although it’s surprising that they’re not in worse shape. They were left in underground cellers IN WATER and eaten by rats, and others were actually torn into strips for curtains. Can you believe it? I also noticed the colours fading towards the bottom, and the newer stitched on pieces are of an altogether paler shade. But I must say that, standing before them in the Cluny gallery, I simply saw them in my mind’s eye without all those blemishes, like a suspension of disbelief, and they were just as perfect as the day they were woven. So I reckon go crazy with your artistic licence and bring them to their full glory!

  3. From Rifestitch
    12 years, 3 months ago

    Wow, another one!!!! I’m kind of torn, in that I would love to recreate them as they were originally intended, but then again, I want also to see them as we all know them currently. I guess you have to take them to the point where you are happy with them, since you are creating your own piece of art from them, as will we when we stitch them (of course, me stitching them assumes I ever finish the first one :) ). Good luck in finding the happy medium – it will be a wonderful design!!!

    Now, to go read that article….

  4. From Alanna
    12 years, 3 months ago

    Wow! Well well done on the finished product, it looks really good, even better than the original I must say, and of course goes immediately onto my wishlist!

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