NARRATOR: Each animal of the bestiary had a story, consistent across time and geography. This gallery is dedicated to one animal, the unicorn. If you look closely, you can appreciate how the narrative persisted through the Middle Ages, and how artists chose to repeat certain elements. We’ll compare two manuscripts in which the narrative is strikingly similar.
BETH MORRISON: The medieval story isn’t all that happy, to tell you the truth. The unicorn was a wild savage beast, and it could only be captured when you put a young maiden in the forest by herself. And the unicorn would come and lay its head in her lap and become calm, maybe even fall asleep. That’s the moment that hunters could come and kill it.
NARRATOR: Although the story might be the same, differences in style set the two manuscripts apart.
BETH MORRISON: The two bestiaries are actually separated in date by about 50 to 70 years. The one at the left was made in England. The one at the right was made in France. They look very different when you first glance at them. The one on the left has very bright colors with a brilliant gilded gold background that shimmers in the light. The one on the right is more subtle in its coloring. It’s almost like a colored drawing on the parchment.
NARRATOR: Notice, too, how each of the unicorn scenes works with the text. Curator Elizabeth Morrison:
BETH MORRISON: In the image at right, the artist is using this very beautiful softly colored, very elegant drawing technique to show the unicorn. You can see that there are subtle blues; there’s some green. The way that image is drawn on the page, the image really seems to interact with the text more than the image on the left where it’s separated by a frame and really set off from the text.