“Girl and unicorn”, or “sixth sense”.
“Many years ago, Rudyard Kipling gave a speech at McGill University in Montreal. Warning students against overly fixated on money, power or glory, he said: “One day you will meet a man for whom all this does not matter. And then you will understand how poor you are” (Guy Kawasaki)
. The famous Flemish tapestry series, united under the common name of “The Girl and the Unicorn” (Fr. La Dame à la licorne) was made in Flanders in the late 15th century. They are now kept at The Musée National du Moyen-Age in Paris. Mysterious tapestries have attracted the attention of Georges Sand, and then many interpreters of the image of “sixth sense”, and were famous in several well-known novels (for example, “The Lady and the Unicorn” by Tracy Chevalier, and “The Seventh Unicorn” by Kelly Jones).
Actually the sixth tapestry is mysterious. On the other five tapestries, the girl demonstrates five basic senses:
Her legs usually have another animal (cat, dog, monkey, etc.) with an exceptional sense of well-being. The sixth tapestry presumably corresponds to the sixth feeling.
The sixth tapestry is called “My only wish” (“A mon seul désir”). It is usually interpreted as “Love”. But the “sixth feeling” has to do with love only what gives access to the world of Ideas (that is, to the True Love – God’s grace).
However, the original order of the tapestries is not known and usually depends on the interpretation of the symbols (in the museum they hang on the walls of the round hall, and, unfortunately, I did not pay attention to their order, being carried away by the solution of the “sixth feeling”). We can try to establish it by the location of the unicorn, which is present on all the tapestries. According to legends, the unicorn (originally it was a white bull, then a horse, and in this case – a goat; in Christian Catholic tradition it is Jesus Christ) – happiness that only comes to a virgin.
Based on the criterion of unicorn proximity, the first tapestry can be considered “Vision”, where the girl and unicorn are in the most trusting relationship: the unicorn has put its front legs on her lap. It should be followed by the Touch Tapestry, where the girl only holds it by the horn, and then – the vices introduced by the rest of the senses and symbolized by the appearance of the monkey (a symbol of passion, sin and inevitability of falling), move the unicorn farther and farther away from the girl. Judging by the distance to the unicorn, “Taste”, “Hearing”, “Smell” and “Sixth Sense” go further. Despite the presence of the monkey, the last tapestry shows the way out of the situation rather than the final sinful fall.
It is believed that on this tapestry the girl takes off her necklace and gives it away, symbolically abandoning the worldly goods and acquiring a connection with the world of Ideas (access to the Divine grace, or the highest form of happiness). The fact that she removes the necklace was deduced from the fact that she was wearing a necklace on the other tapestries. However, I find this explanation very controversial, although it gives additional room for imagination.
However, even if the girl takes the necklace, it is possible to give at least three interpretations of the depicted plot. Everything depends on what tapestry to consider first, and on what to consider the desire of a girl’s soul. The matter is that on a so-called sixth tapestry the girl stands against a background of dark blue as the sky a tent with an inscription “My only desire” (it is the official name of a tapestry). Next to the girl is a maid (?) with a cobra crown. In her hands is a jewelry box. Snake – a symbol of wisdom (ie, “maid” – Sophia), or temptation (Satan).
In my opinion, it’s quite obvious that a girl doesn’t put a necklace in a box, but takes it out of a box (it sags, whereas to get a necklace in a box, you have to keep your hand above it).
Interestingly, this necklace is not like the previous ones – it is the richest. If this is the first tapestry, and the girl wears the necklace, and the other wears parts of it, corresponding to the new outfits, the interpretation is as follows: an innocent girl is seduced by a snake (a monkey appears – the possibility of sin) and receives a gift – the talents associated with all the senses. In confirmation – one at
measure: she doesn’t listen to music on her Hearing tapestry, she plays it herself. In this case, the unicorn does not leave her, but approaches, being attracted by her innocence and talents. The greatest talent connected with a divine gift is an opportunity to catch a unicorn (“Touch”) and tame it (“Vision”, now it is a tapestry N6). Possible sin in the form of a monkey disappears. Thus, the whole series turns into a history of attraction of happiness (unicorn) by talents of an innocent girl and his capture. By the way, I saw this story of those times in Washington Art Gallery. In the prosaic sense it is “going out” (tapestry N1), attraction of the groom (NN2-4) and marriage (N5 and N6). In other words, it is possible – as if a sinless variant of earthly love. However, then it turns out that purity and virginity (unicorn) – the result of the refined arts …
If “My only wish” is really the last tapestry, it still has no rejection of other feelings. The “Sixth Sense” is simply presented as the highest desire of the soul, bringing an invaluable gift to Sophia (the symbol is the best necklace) – access to the True (Divine) Love. This is the only true desire of a pure girl. Interestingly, if the name on the tent is also symbolic, then, most likely, it means exactly the “Wish of the soul”, because seul (the only one) is very similar to the English soul and the Dutch medieval (1100-1500) siele – soul. The girl remains above sin (monkey) and earthly notions of purity (unicorn is removed to the maximum distance).
In its simplest form, a girl learns different arts and enjoys earthly (sinful?) pleasures. At the same time, she loses more and more connection with true happiness (unicorn). And all this for the sake of a true girl’s desire to marry successfully (a symbol – a tent with attributes of a rich house: a maid, a much more expensive decoration, etc.)
In these interpretations, in my opinion, there is a secret of attractiveness of tapestries – they show Love in two of its faces: Earthly and Divine. It all depends on how the countdown is conducted.