The Hunt of the Unicorn




For many hours, Howard COMEAU and I exchanged our thoughts on The Hunt for the Unicorn.

I must write it down immediately : the gist of the interpretation is largely due to Howard COMEAU.

Before receiving his first email, I didn't know the details of The Hunt for the Unicorn. I had read Margaret Freeman's book, but that was the extent of it. At that time, my research was focused on The Lady and the Unicorn in Cluny, Paris.

I remember Howard's first email: he had just discovered my initial website using the magic words "Jean Perreal." After having thought for a long time about Jean Fouquet, he had settled on Jean Perreal.

We met twice in Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Indre et Loire), where I worked, and then I spent two delightful months in his apartment in northern Manhattan to see The Hunt in Cloisters (a Masonic hall ?) and the marvelous city of New York.

His mastery of Latin and ancient Greek, which he taught, his knowledge of medieval and Renaissance French history, and his strict Catholic education facilitated his "reading" of The Hunt tapestries and enabled him to decipher many "secrets" that had not yet been identified when he takes up his job as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To learn more about Howie Comeau, quickly read Danielle OTERI's article, "The Secret of the Unicorn Tapestries" published in The Paris Review on November 18, 2020.

No one in the world has scrutinized each tapestry of The Hunt of the Unicorn or examined every detail with as much attention as the two of us. We read a considerable number of books on history, arts (Middle Ages, Renaissance, and others), religion, alchemy, Kabbalah, Freemasonry, psychology, and more.

I know ! Howard wanted pages less dense than what you see on this site. He wanted to avoid us "talking too much." He wanted simple pages with a few sentences, a few images. I believe, unlike Howard, that we should write down everything we have seen or thought we saw ; we should talk about what we read...

Readers, understand me well : if I mention hermeticism, esotericism, alchemy, Kabbalah, Tarot... it's not because I believe in them, but all these "faiths" or these arts, as well as Christianity, were part of the "soil" of the artist's ideology (Jean Perreal ?), who designed The Hunt of the Unicorn and The Lady and the Unicorn. It might have been the "air" he breathed, the "water" he drank, the "earth" he walked on, the "fire" that inspired him...

Therefore, every reader must make a choice among the pages, illustrations, quotes, and bibliography...

The Hunt of the Unicorn is certainly the most enigmatic work of the year 1500, said to have been woven between 1495 and 1505. It awaits you on this site and in New York.

I wish you happy reading.


A work of art can only be read by successive deepening.

Friedrich Nietzsche


The interpretation of The Hunt of the Unicorn at The Cloisters in New York is not limited to symbolically or metaphorically expressing scenes from the Passion of Christ or the senses, just as just as The Lady and the unicorn at Cluny Museum in Paris is not merely a representation of the Five Senses.

The artist, whom we believe to be common (Jean Perreal, known as Jehan de Paris), like many artists from all places and times, must conceal his "secret," which a careful examination, free from preconceptions, allows us to discover in the form of reasonable hypotheses, not absurd ones.

In The Hunt of the Unicorn as in The Lady and the Unicorn there is not a single element (I emphasize : not a single one) (characters, animals, plants, objects) that is superfluous or interchangeable with another.

In these 13 tapestries from Cluny and The Cloisters, there is not a single element that lacks its precise place, its meaning, its symbolism... There is no extravagance, but an economy of means in these two enigmatic and incomparable works, for a more intense effect.
"Great" works of art, masterpieces, are created to evoke a strong sensation, whether "open" or "hidden," meaning they can be received at face value or conceal a meaning reserved only for the "initiated."


We will not repeat here the various hypotheses about The Hunt of the Unicorn (found in books, magazines, websites). They deserve to be read because they all contain very relevant analyses that we have appreciated.
We believe that The Hunt of the Unicorn is a work of art created for at least two main reasons :
To celebrate the millennium of the baptism of Clovis, “founder” of the French monarchy (baptized between 496 and 505 according to historians, i.e. a creation between 1496 and 1506).

It's with the oil of Clovis' baptism that kings have been consecrated since the 10th century. Kings were believed to have the power to heal scrofula through the potency of the divine oil.

To be used as illustrated, educational, and mnemonic supports for the education of royal princes and princesses.
— Perhaps a third reason should be added : to be offered by Anne de France (Dame de Beaujeu and Bourbon, daughter of Louis XI) to her daughter Suzanne for her 16th birthday and her marriage to Charles de Montpensier.

In its intended, what we believe to be encyclopedic purpose, The Hunt of the Unicorn evokes all the celestial, legendary, and historical events known in the kingdom of France at that time, which every future king and queen must know to govern their country. The different "histories" are almost always mentioned in chronological order and in the order of the tapestries.


Frances Yates' book, The Art of Memory (Pimlico 1966), helps us to understand the role played by these woven references in the knowledge and memorization of historical facts. Their purpose : to learn how to organize our memories and, as a result, be able to think.
Furthermore, the printed book provided a different, more personal, and accessible support for memory. Following humanists like Erasmus, people preferred to classify their ideas in a deductive and rational order rather than in an order dictated by imagination. The Art of Memory, cultivated for so long, eventually disappeared.
Frances Yates' analysis seems applicable in The Hunt.

In The Hunt, Cosmos and Nature take the place of the building for storing objects. The Passion of Christ, described in parallel with the alchemical quest, will imprint in the memory of young princes and princesses archetypal images of the history of the world in general and of France in particular. According to the French hermetic tradition, the artist will carefully avoid representing "magic" in their drawings.

For Howard Comeau, in The Hunt, Jean Perreal takes up the staging of plays directed by Jean Fouquet, perhaps to illustrate each day of the year. These educational drawings could be used to educate the princes and princesses of the castle of Amboise and other places. However, it's important to note that the tapestries of the Cloister are later than Fouquet's productions.

Jean Fouquet : 1420 - 1478/1481.

The squirrel of the tapestry The Death of the Unicorn.
The name of Fouquet's comes from the local dialect of French western regions and meant squirrel.

The seven tapestries of The Hunt are flat-woven and aesthetic representations by Jean Perreal of the knowledge of his time, including religious, historical ... and even hermetic knowledge.
Like the "encyclopedias" written in Latin or vernacular language, The Hunt can be read by those who understand its meaning (hidden discourse) according to the sense (order of reading) imposed by the artist and the arrangement on the walls.
Thus, each interpretive "entry" successively leads to its "chapters" in the chronological order of the tapestries, from the first to the last. We are then invited to a second, new and different reading. Then a third reading, and so on...
After reading "Passion of Christ," which begins with the Nativity in the first tapestry and ends with the Resurrection in the seventh tapestry, one can begin the "reading" of "Genesis" and "Alchemy"... Alphabetical order can also be a possible path.

Crossed and intertwined interpretations can sometimes be attempted when the codes are mastered.

Let us not be deceived : even when ordered, our multiplied interpretation of The Hunt of the Unicorn will never be complete or exhausted. Like Creation, the "reading" (and perhaps also the creation of the tapestry itself by the artist) is done "day by day," and the creator (God-Creator, the artist-creator, the reader-creator) sees that it is good.

Woven for the education (we think, Howard and I) of a princess and a prince, the tapestries of The Hunt imbued with faith, are intended to lead those who look at them every day on the path of morality and salvation.
The following pages, created with the same intention of harmony, also but modestly, aim to be an encyclopedia of The Hunt of the Unicorn and The Lady and the Unicorn.

The Hunt of the Unicorn describes two educational paths :

The collective path of Humanity, of world history (from Genesis to the Apocalypse, via universal monarchy, the Universitas Christiana) and the history of the nation of France (up to around 1500).

The individual path of a determined and confident man on a quest, a Pilgrim in search of the Philosopher's Stone : Light and Wisdom.

The Art of Memory employed here no longer resides within compartmentalized and fixed spaces but within vast movements that act with extreme mobility, involving a multitude of elements (people, animals, objects) with diverse roles. The unity is found in this maelstrom, which is also the "new world" in motion discovered during the Renaissance.
From ground zero and the time zero of Creation, this "movement" depicted in The Hunt signifies both "destiny" and "unity" in a will to persuade and move.

The Hunt of the Unicorn is perhaps one of the finest examples of these syntheses, transitions, and blends between the mnemonic structure and the modern structures of the Renaissance.

One could write about these tapestries of The Hunt as Antoine Faivre writes in Access to Western Esotericism (Suny Press, 1994) about the "encyclopedic spirit'" of Gothic cathedrals and major books or encyclopedias like Vincent de Beauvais' Speculum Majus : « Mirror of Nature, Mirror of Science, Mirror of History, all works of art, written or architectural, that teach the hierarchical os of creatures and spiritual life, give the occult rhythm of these universal relations a musical dimension to be more reassuring than Roman art and nevertheless continue to convey a system of symbolic and cosmic values. »

The Hunt of the Unicorn could also contribute to the development of the "modern Western esoteric landscape", according to Antoine Faivre's analysis :
« The end of the 15th century witnessed what could be termed the beginnings of the modern Western esoteric landscape, brought about by the emergence of new currents in the reevaluation or adaptation of older traditions, and especially by a desire to connect various domains of research or knowledge. »

Among these are neo-Alexandrian Hermeticism, Christian Kabbalah, Magic in the sense understood by Pico della Mirandola, and of course, alchemy and astrology.



The woven representation of this "concurrent promenade" is crafted with various stylistic elements in a pivotal period, where, as Daniel Arasse puts it in his book Histoires de peintures (Denoël, 2004), "from memory to rhetoric" :

The repeated presence of the same character (e.g., the unicorn) in the same tapestry.

The potential for a polysemic character or element to have more than one "meaning."

The Renaissance perspective (in the representation of cities).

The concept of movement described by Alberti in his De Pictura concerning Renaissance artists.


Donor in prayer at the feet of the Virgin and Child

Saint Luc, c. 1500 - BnF

It would be touching that these two miniatures, extracted from the Book of Hours of the Comeau family, attributed to Pierre de Paix, said Aubenas, were in reality painted by Jean Perreal ! The manuscript belonged to the 15th century to a Comeau de Créancy, probably Guiot Comeau, lord and receiver of Pouilly-en-Auxois. But was he the sponsor, a tabard emblazoned with his arms could be a overpaint ?

Articles about The Hunt of the Unicorn

Helmut NICKEL, About the Sequence of the Tapestries in The Hunt of the Unicorn and The Lady with the Unicorn

Lawrence J. CROCKETT, The Identification of a Plant in the Unicorn Tapestries


To enlarge details of The Hunt of the Unicorn :

1- go to the website :

2- click on a tapestry in "Gallery"

3- I wish you a pleasant visit and good discories !

— tapestry 1: The Start of the hunting
- the pattern of thistles on the clothes of two men at the center
- a butterfly, two dragonflies
- a blue bird in the middle of a strange tree with leaves in the shape of squares or lozenges

— tapestry 2 : The Unicorn at the Fountain
- the pattern of thistles on the clothing of the man who lifts the index
- the 5th dog hidden before Judas on the left
- the inscription on the horn
- the look of the dog that staring at us on the right
- three goldfinches, a nightjar (?)
- the lioness watching us (as Mona Lisa?)

— tapestry 3 : River Crossing
- a bird that flies
- the letters F - R
- the black cross on a flag

— tapestry 4 : The Unicorn defends itself
- a bird that flies
- the Mont Saint Michel
- Pilate washes his hands
- the inscription on the sword sheath
- the wounded dog

— tapestry 5 : incomplete
- the woman's backward glance.

— tapestry 6 : The Death of the unicorn
- a bird that flies
- the black cross on a flag
- a cross on the blue building
- lily flowers on buildings
- the two people behind the grille of a window
- a cross around the neck of Anne of France
- a couple of goldfinches
- blood overflowing horn and that may fall onto Louis IX
- the squirrel
- the sex of the dog

— tapestry 7 : The Unicorn alone
- a butterfly
- two dragonflies
- a frog





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