Artworks devoted to the mystical creatures are being unearthed for the New York landmark's 75th anniversary, a celebration that will shine a spotlight on the fascinating collection of Unicorn Tapestries housed deep within in the medieval-looking building. The exhibit, "Search for the Unicorn," endeavors to survey over 2,000 years of art and lore inspired by the equine beauties, showcasing everything from dishes and textiles to decadent paintings and manuscripts.
The origins of The Cloister's Unicorn Tapestries -- gorgeous masterpieces that depict detailed, often violent scenes of horned horses -- are as mysterious as the mythic beings themselves. According to the Financial Times, the curious pieces made their way from France to the United States via the Rockefeller Family in the early 1920s, equipped with the initials "A" and "E", which were perhaps a nod to an unknown author or former owner. Whether the textile unicorns were created to represent romantic love, feminine mystique or even Jesus Christ, their true meaning remains elusive.
Other alluring artifacts on display include a pair of narwhal tusks (specimens that appear all too similar to the horns of their fictional brethren), coins adorned with images of unicorns, and a series of books illuminating the medicinal value of the wild beasts. Scroll through the images below for a peek at some of the other works in "Search for the Unicorn," on view at The Cloisters until August 18, 2013. Let us know what you think of the whimsical exhibit in the comments.
Parade Saddle German or Tyrolean, ca. 1450 Carved bone with traces of paint, mounted on a wood frame 22 x 16 1/2 x 17 in. (54.8 x 41.9 x 43.2 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1904 (04.3.250) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Existence Written by Zakaria bin Muhammad bin Mahmud Abu Yahya Qazwini (Persian, ca. 1203–1283) Copied in Mughal India, 1701 Tempera, gold, and ink on paper 8 3/4 x 11 7/8 (22.3 x 30 cm) open U.S. National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, History of Medicine Division
Birth Tray with the Triumph of Chastity Workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso (Italian, ca. 1416–1465) Italian, Florence, ca. 1450–60 Tempera and gold leaf on panel 23 x 23 1/4 in. (58.4 x 59.1 cm) North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Image: © North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
Medal of Cecilia Gonzaga Pisanello (Antonio Pisano) (Italian, by 1395–1455) Italian, Mantua, 1447 Copper alloy Diam. 3 5/16 in. (8.4 cm) Dr. Stephen K. and Janie Woo Scher Collection
Dish with the Arms of Matthias Corvinus and Beatrix of Aragon Italian, probably Pesaro, 1485–90 Maiolica (tin-enameled earthenware) 4 x 18 7/8 x 18 7/8 in. (10.2 x 47.9 x 47.9 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 1946 (46.85.30) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Animals of the Holy Land, from Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Pilgrimage to the Holy Land) Written by Bernhard von Breydenbach (German, 1440–1497); woodcuts by Erhard Reuwich (Netherlandish, active 1480s) Printed in Mainz, 1486 Woodcut in printed book 12 5/8 x 9 1/16 x 1 3/8 in. (32 x 23 x 3.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.49.3) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
A Maiden Taming a Unicorn, from the Worksop Bestiary English, possibly Lincoln or York, ca. 1185 Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment 8 1/2 x 6 1/8 in. (21.5 x 15.5 cm) The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York Image: © The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
Iskandar Kills the Monster of Habash, folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings) Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (Persian, 935–1020) Persian, Northwestern Iran or Baghdad, ca. 1300–1330 Ink, opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper 7 1/4 x 6 1/8 in. (18.4 x 15.6 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1969 (69.74.5) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
America, from The Four Continents Julius Goltzius (Dutch, died ca. 1595), after Maerten de Vos (Netherlandish, 1532–1603) Dutch, 16th century Engraving 8 5/8 x 11 1/16 in. (21.9 x 28.1 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1949 (49.95.1524) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Portrait of a Woman, possibly Ginevra d'Antonio Lupari Gozzadini Attributed to the Maestro delle Storie del Pane (Italian, active late 15th century) Italian, Emilia, ca. 1485–95 Tempera on panel 19 3/4 x 14 5/8 in. (50.2 x 37.1 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.96) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Unicorn Aquamanile German, Nuremberg, ca. 1425–50 Copper alloy 15 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 4 7/16 in. (39.4 x 29.2 x 11.3 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964 (64.101.1493) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Unicorn and Ram, from the Meshal ha-Kadmoni (Fable of the Ancients) Written by Isaac ben Solomon abi Sahula (Spanish, born 1244); printed by Gershom ben Moses Soncino (Italian, died 1533); anonymous woodcuts Printed in Brescia, 1491 Woodcut in printed book 8 1/2 x 12 3/4 in. (21.5 x 32.5 cm) open Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York Image: © Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York
The Unicorn at the Stream, from the Unicorn Series Jean Duvet (French, ca. 1485–after 1561) French, ca. 1555 Engraving 8 7/8 x 15 9/16 in. (22.5 x 39.6 cm) The New York Public Library, Print Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations Image: © The New York Public Library, Print Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Emblem of the Unicorn, from Symbolorum et emblematum (Book of Symbols and Emblems) Written by Joachim Camerarius the Younger (German, 1534–1598); etchings by Johann Siebmacher (German, died 1611) Printed in Nuremberg, 1590–1605 Etching in printed book 7 9/16 x 5 11/16 x 1 3/4 in. (19.2 x 14.5 x 4.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of S. P. Avery, transferred from the Library, 1921 (21.36.42) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Histoire générale des drogues (General History of Drugs) Written by Pierre Pomet (French, 1658–1699); anonymous engravings Printed in Paris, 1694 Engraving in printed book 15 3/8 x 19 3/4 (39 x 50 cm) open U.S. National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, History of Medicine Division
Torah Crown Polish, Galicia, 1778 Silver and gilded silver 12 3/16 × 8 1/8 in. (31 × 20.7 cm) Private collection, New York Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Unicorn in Captivity South Netherlandish, ca. 1495–1505 Wool, silk, and silver and gilded-silver wrapped thread 12 ft. 1 in. x 99 in. (368 x 251.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York