1988/2 The Virgin & the Unicorn
Bronze (cast by Fiorini foundry)
Exhibited Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 1988 Catalogue No. 1033
This work was begun in January 1987 and finished in January 1988
The tale of the virgin's ability to tame the unicorn seems to have arisen in Medieval times. As the legend goes, if a virgin is led to a place that the unicorn has been seen and left there, the unicorn, upon seeing her will run to her, rest his head in her lap and fall asleep. This was how the unicorn was frequently captured and killed. The unicorn was the symbol of chastity and was sought after by kings who wanted to display it as a symbol of power.
A thirteenth century poem by Thibaut describes the essence of the legend:
The unicorn and I are one:
He also pauses in amaze
Before some maiden's magic gaze,
And while he wonders, is undone.
On some dear breast he slumbers deep
And Treason slays him in that sleep.
Just so have ended my Life's days;
So Love and my Lady lay me low.
My heart will not survive this blow."
In the original Christian symbolism the unicorn is a representation of Jesus, the horn represents the unity of Jesus and God, its fierceness & defiance were said to be a reminder that nothing can control Jesus against his will, and the small size of the animal represented Jesus’ humility. The virgin, then, became the symbol of the Virgin Mary and the hunter become symbolic of the angel Gabriel.
In one of his notebooks Leonardo da Vinci wrote: "The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it." [(Ashmolean Museum)"Young woman seated in a landscape with a unicorn", Leonardo, Late 1470s]
The gentle and pensive maiden has the power
to tame the unicorn, fresco, Palazzo Farnese,
Rome, probably by Domenico Zampieri, ca 1602
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