During long hours, Howard COMEAU and I, we have exchanged our thoughts on The Hunt of the Unicorn. I have to write it right away : the essential of the interpretation is due to Howard COMEAU. Before I receive the first email message, I did not know The Hunt of the Unicorn in detail. I read the book by Margaret Freeman, but no more. My research was focused on The Lady and the Unicorn of Cluny in Paris.

I remember the first email from Howard : he had just discovered my first site using the magic word "Jean Perréal" because, after he thought long about Jean Fouquet, he opted for Jean Perréal. We met twice at Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Indre et Loire) where I work and then I spent two delicious months in his home in the north of Manhattan to see The Hunt in The Cloisters (a Masonic Hall ?) and the wonderful city of New York.

There is nobody in the world that has examined each tapestry of The Hunt of the Unicorn, every detail, with as much attention as both of us. We have read a considerable quantity of books on history, arts (Medieval, Renaissance and others), religion, alchemy, the Kabbalah, the Freemasons, psychology ...

I know, I said, Howard wanted pages less dense than what you see on this site. He wanted to avoid that we "talked too much." He wanted simple pages as a few sentences, a few images. He would not talk about Fulcanelli, of Girard, Jung ... fearing to alienate the reader.

I am more voluble, more "draft". I think, unlike Howard, we have to write down everything we saw or believed to see, we have to talk about what we read, we have

Readers, understand me well : if I mention Hermeticism, esotericism, alchemy, Kabbalah, the Tarot ... it's not because I believe in it, but all these 'faiths' or these Arts, as well as Christianity, were part of "ideological humus" of the artist (Jean Perréal?) who has drawn The Hunt of the Unicorn and The Lady and the Unicorn. It was, perhaps, the "air" he breathed, the "water" he drank, "the land" where he walked, the "fire" which gave him ideas ...

Every reader, then, have to make a choice between the pages, illustrations, citations, bibliography ...

The Hunt of the Unicorn is certainly the most enigmatic artwork of cerning year 1500. She is waiting for you in this website and in New York ...

I wish you good readings.



A work of art is only readable by successive deepening.

Friedrich Nietzsche


The Hunt of the Unicorn in The Cloisters in New York, have been given for woven between 1495 and 1505, is one of art's most enigmatic of Western Art.

Its interpretation is not limited to express as symbolic or metaphorical scenes The Passion of Christ as well as The Lady and the Unicorn of the Museum of Cluny in Paris is not that the staging of the Five Senses.

Their artist, we think common (Jean Perréal said Jehan de Paris), like many artists of all places and all time has to conceal his "secret" that a careful examination, without " a priori ", can be found in anyway issued in the form of reasonable assumptions, not absurd.

In The Hunt of the Unicorn, as in The Lady and the Unicorn, no (I emphasis : none) component (characters, animal, plant, object) is too much, or interchangeable with another.

In these 13 tapestries of Cluny and The Cloisters, there is no element which has no its precise place, its meaning, its symbolism... There is no exuberance, but economy of means in both these enigmatic and incomparable artworks, the more intensive effect.

The "great" artworks, the masterpieces, not necessarily large, opposed to decorative artworks, are created for a strong meaning, " open " or " covered ", that is to say read in the first degree or concealing a meaning reserved only for "initiates."



We will not repeat here the various assumptions on The Hunt of the Unicorn (books, magazines, websites). They should be read because they all contain highly pertinent analysis that we have appreciated.

We believe that The Hunt of the Unicorn is an artwork that was created for at least two main reasons :

Celebrate the millennium of the baptism of Clovis : 496-1496 (or 497 -1497 or 498 -1498)

— Use of media illustrated, educational and mnemonic, for the education of royal princes and princesses.

Perhaps should we to add a third : to be offered by Anne de France (Lady of Beaujeu and Bourbon, daughter of Louis XI) to his daughter Suzanne for her 16th birthday and her marriage to Charles de Montpensier.


In its intention that we think encyclopedic, The Hunt of the Unicorn evokes all the facts, heavenly, legendary and historical, which are then known in this kingdom of France and which any future king, any future queen, must know to govern his/her country and even the world. The different "stories" are almost always mentioned in the order and the order of the tapestries.

Frances Yates's book, The Art of Memory (Pimlico 1966) allows us to understand the role played by these references woven into the knowledge and memorization of historical facts. Their purpose : to learn to know how to organize our memories, and therefore, able to think.
And then, the printed book has brought to the memory a different support, more personal and accessible. And following Humanists like Erasmus, the people preferred to classify his ideas in a deductive, rational, order, rather than the order decided in the imagination. The Art of Memory, so long cultured, finally disappear.

This analysis of Frances Yates appears to us applicable in The Hunt.

The Cosmos, the Nature take the place of the building to 'stay' the items to be stored. The Passion of Christ, described in parallel with the alchemical Quest, will "print in the memory (of the young princes and princesses) of archetypal images" of the History of the World in general and France in particular. The artist, according to the French Hermetic tradition, will avoid carefully the representation of the " magic " in his drawings.

For Howard Comeau, in The Hunt of the Unicorn, Jean Perréal took over the stagings of theatrical plays set by Jean Fouquet, perhaps to illustrate each day of the year. These pedagogical drawings could be used to educate princes and prncesses in the castle of Amboise and other places. But, of course, the Cloisters tapestries are posterior to the stagings of Fouquet.

(*) Jean Fouquet : 1420 - 1478/81,

The squirrel of the tapestry 'The Death of the Unicorn'.

The name of Fouquet's comes from the local dialect of western regions and meant squirrel)

The seven tapestries of The Hunt of the Unicorn are "flat" and esthetic représentations by Jean Perréal of the knowledge of his time, religious knowledge, historical ... even hermetic.

Like the "encyclopedias" written in Latin or vernacular language, The Hunt of the Unicorn can be read by those who know the meaning (discourses hidden), according to the meaning (reading order) imposed by the artist and the hanging on the walls.

Thus, each interpretative "input" conducted its "chapters" in succession, in the arithmetic order of the tapestries, from the first to the last. Then we are invited to a second reading, new and different. Then to a third reading, etc ...

After the "input" : "Passion of Christ" which begins with the Nativity of the first tapestry and ended with the Resurrection in the tapestry 7, we can begin the "reading" of "Genesis" and "Alchemy"... Alphabetical order can also be a possible path.

Crossed, intermingled, interpretations can sometimes be tempted when the codes are controlled.

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

Woven for the education (we think, Howard and me) of a princess and a prince, the tapestries of The Hunt, imprints of faith, are intended to lead on the way of morality and salvation those who watch them every day.

The following pages, created with the same intention of harmony, want to be, also but modestly, an encyclopedia of The Hunt of the Unicorn and The Lady with the Unicorn.


The Hunt of the Unicorn describes two ways with 'pedagogical' intentions :

— The collective path of the Humanity (way that the artist wanted to be complete) of World History (from Genesis to The Apocalypse, "via" the universal monarchy, the Universitas Christiana) and history of the nation of France (until about 1500)

—The individual path of a man walking too forward, determined and sure of the object of his Quest, Pilgrim to the Philosophical Stone: the Light and the Wisdom.




The woven representation of this concomitant 'walk' is made with different stylistic contributions in a pivotal period, where we spend (with the words of Daniel Arasse : Stories of paintings, Denoël, 2004) "from the memory to the rhetoric" :
— The multiple presence of a same character (for example : the unicorn) in the same tapestry
— The possibility to a polysemic character or an element to have more than one 'meaning'
— The Renaissance perspective (in the representation of cities)
— The movement which Alberti speaks in his De Pictura concerning the artists of the Renaissance.


The Art of Memory wich is implemented here no longer passes in compartmented and fixed spaces but in large movements which act with an extreme mobility a large number of elements (people, animals, objects) with different employments.
The unification is in this maelstrom which is also the " new " world in movement that the Renaissance discovers.
From the zero point and the zero time of Creation, this drawn movement of The Hunt means both fate and unity in a will to convince and to move.

The Hunt of the Unicorn is perhaps one the most beautiful examples "of these syntheses, passages and mixtures between memory structure and modern structures of the Renaissance" in the words of Daniel Arasse.

We could write about these tapestries of The Hunt, what Antoine Faivre writes (in Access to Western esotericism) about the "encyclopedic spirit" of Gothic cathedrals and of the great books or encyclopedias as the Speculum Majus of Vincent de Beauvais: "Mirror of Nature, Mirror of Science, Mirror of History, as well are such artworks, written or architectural. They teach the hierarchical reigns of the creatures and the spiritual life, give to the occult rhythm of these universal relations a musical dimension, which to be more reassuring than Roman art, nevertheless continue to transmit a system of symbolic and cosmic values."

The Hunt of the Unicorn may also be involved in the construction of "modern Western esoteric landscape" according to the analysis of Antoine Faivre : "The end of the fifteenth century has seen what might be called the draft modern Western esoteric landscape caused by the emergence of new currents in the reactualization or the adaptation of older traditions, and especially by a will be connected to each other the various areas of research or knowledge."

Among these is the neo-Alexandrian Hermeticism, christian Kabbalah, the 'Magia' — in the sense that Pico della Mirandola understands — and of course alchemy and astrology.
In the sixteenth century, the current enlarge the river and just at the moment -— the end of the century — when the writings of Paracelsus (1493-1541) began to be regularly published, appears another current, which we will soon baptized 'theosophy'. Born in Germany as the previous one, it depends on it, with which it has the most affinities. "

The characteristics of the various theosophies that distinguishes Antoine Faivre may appear in The Hunt :
— the triangle God - Man - Nature and relations between them
— the primacy of the mythical that allows "staging characters, mythemes, scenarii, such as Sophia, angels, the primitive androgyne, the successive falls (of Lucifer, Adam, Nature)" ... in a sort of "theology of the image."
— the direct access to the superior worlds. "

The Human owns in himself the faculty, usually asleep but still potential to 'connect' himself, in some way, directly onto the divine world or onto the world of superior entities ... namely to perform a 'rebirth'. "


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 Perréal ! 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 ?


Websites about The Hunt

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

Margaret FREEMAN, A new room for the Unicorn Tapestries

site of the artist Martin Bigum


To enlarge details of The Hunt of the Unicorn :

1- go to the website :





2- click on a tapestry
3- in the bottom right, click "enlarge"
4- in the bottom right, click on the arrow
5- click on the tapestry
6- using the "lifts" to the right and down, move the entire tapestry (or with the mouse wheel)
7- go back to select another tapestry
8- pleasant visit and good discoveries !


- - - - - - -

— 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 : Unicorn at the Fountain
- the pattern of thistles on the clothing of the man who lifted 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, the 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 : Unicorn defends itself
- a bird that flies
- the Mont Saint Michel
- Pilate washes his hands
- the inscription on the sword sheath
- the wound wounded dog

— tapestry 5 : incomplete
- look back of women

— 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 will fall on Louis IX
- the squirrel
- the sex of the dog

— tapestry 7 : the unicorn alone
- a butterfly
- two dragonflies
- a frog





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