NARRATOR: This master work from 15th century Germany is a spectacular example of the bestiary’s power to influence imagery beyond manuscripts.
LARISA GROLLEMOND: This is known as a parade saddle because we think it may have been used for ceremonial purposes. About 20 of these saddles survive from the Middle Ages. You can see that it is horse-sized, but it’s unclear if it would have actually been sat upon.
NARRATOR: Made of finely-carved bone, it offers a feast of imagery that would have captivated medieval audiences. One of the main scenes in the center features the noble unicorn looking over his shoulder. The unicorn is the object of a hunt, which explains its appearance here.
LARISA GROLLEMOND: The scene of the unicorn and the maiden was particularly appropriate for a saddle like this because of its equestrian theme but also because of the story of the unicorn in the later Middle Ages particularly was bound up with ideas of courtly love and romance and chivalric tales.
NARRATOR: You see pairs of lovers throughout. To the lower right is a comparable chivalric scene—the miraculous story of Saint George, who slayed a virgin-eating dragon in God’s name. Note the other figures who embody scenes of courtly love. The finely-carved and exuberant scenes on this addle would have advertised its owner’s wealth and taste.