The Unicorn is Attacked (from the Unicorn Tapestries)

Date: 1495–1505

Culture: South Netherlandish

Medium: Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts

Dimensions: Overall: 145 x 168in. (368.3 x 426.7cm)

Classification: Textiles-Tapestries

Credit Line: Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937

Accession Number: 37.80.3


The Unicorn tapestries at The Cloisters (acc. nos. 37.80.1–.6 and 38.51.1, .2) are the most celebrated medieval hangings in the Metropolitan Museum's collection; their quality and rarity are equaled by only a few examples in the world and are surpassed by none. Their celebrity notwithstanding, there are many remaining questions about the tapestries, including the number of series from which they came, the patron or patrons for whom they were made, and the metaphoric links between the scenes of the unicorn hunt and the life and Passion of Christ. In this hanging, the unicorn, pursued by men and dogs, crosses a rivulet deep in the forest. As it prepares to step out onto the bank, more hunters armed with spears take aim as the rest of the company approaches. Remarkable for their botanical accuracy, the hangings are also appealing in their presentation of such details as the ducks swimming in the stream in the foreground or the thirsty hunting dogs lapping up the fresh water of the stream. The style of the figures has been convincingly compared to illustrations in books printed in Paris at the end of the fifteenth century, and the shimmering quality of the silks and the richness of the palette rival contemporary painting.