NARRATOR: The Millefleurs, or “thousand flower” tapestry was a very popular type in the Middle Ages, especially in the late 15th and 16th centuries. It features densely woven floral backgrounds with plants dispersed across a field of green, giving the impression of a flowery meadow. Sometimes these tapestries also included an impressive array of common and exotic animals; here, you see rabbits, deer, a large cat, and a variety of birds. The careful arrangement of animals was certainly decorative, but it also commented on God’s creation, much like bestiary manuscript images.
Curator Larisa Grollemond:
LARISA GROLLEMOND: Although this tapestry doesn’t reference the bestiary in specific terms, viewers would have brought those symbolic connections learned from the bestiary to their viewing of this object. Medieval viewers would have been easily able to recognize the unicorn as a symbol for Christ and integrate it within a larger conception of God’s creation.
NARRATOR: The three evenly spaced rose bushes stand for the Trinity composed of God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The unicorn alludes to Christ, while the wild falcon at the top right stands for the devil or other evil forces.
Completing this tapestry would have required a team of weavers working on a loom for at least several months, depending on how much manpower was available. Note the fine weaving and sumptuous color palette. This kind of expert craftsmanship would have cost a great deal. While we don’t know exactly where this tapestry originally hung or who owned it, tapestries like this were among the most valued and valuable types of medieval artworks. The owner of this one would have been very wealthy.