SYMBOLISM AND IMAGINATION OF THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD
Text topic: THE FANTASTIC IN CULTURE
Text author: Јована Николић
The French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau often used the motifs of fantastic beings and animals in his works, amongst which the unicorn found its place. Moreau got the inspiration for the unicorn motif after a visit to the Cluny Museum in Paris, in which six medieval tapestries with the name “The Lady and the Unicorn” were exhibited. Relying on the French Middle Age heritage, Moreau has interpreted the medieval legend of the hunt for this fantastic beast (with the aid of a virgin) in a new way, close to the art of Symbolism and the ideas of the cultural and intellectual climate of Paris at the end of the 19th century. In the Moreau’s paintings “The Unicorn” and “The Unicorns”, beautiful young nude girls are portrayed in the company of one or multiple unicorns. Similarly to the lady on the medieval tapestry, they too gently caress the animal, showing a close and sensual relationship between them. Although they were rid of their clothes, the artist donned lavish capes, crowns and jewellery on them, alluding to their privileged social status. Their beauty, nudity and closeness with the unicorns ties them to the theme of the femme fatal, which was often depicted in the Symbolist art forms. Showing the fairer sex as beings closer to the material,instinctual and irrational, Moreau has equated women and animals, as is the case with these paintings. Another important theme of the Symbolic art forms which can be seen on the aforementioned paintings is nature,wild and untouched. The landscape in the paintings shows a harmony between the unrestrained nature and the heroes of the painting, freed from strict moral laws of the civil society, or civilization in general.Putting the ladies and the unicorns in an ideal forest landscape, Moreau paints an intimate vision of an imaginary golden age, in this case the Middle Age, through a harmonic relationship of unicorns, women and nature. In that manner, Moreau’s unicorns tell a fairy tale of a modern European man at the end of the 19th century: a fairy tale of harmony,sensuality and beauty, hidden in the realms of imagination and dreams.