The Medieval Variegation

07.12.2016 — by Victoria Ventonni



The Medieval Variegation

07.12.2016 — by Victoria Ventonni

Nowadays more and more people are getting interested in medieval period of our history. One of the brightest example of that is The Game of Thrones, built on medieval history, its customs and, of course, costumes.

Interesting is, during Renaissance and Classicism, Middle Ages were despised, considered to be the dark time with the reign of people who destroyed the great Roman Empire. They used the term “gothic” to describe everything barbaric, as goths were one of the tribes that destroyed Rome. Middle Ages became popular in the beginning of 19th century, when evolving Romantics found its basis in medieval heritage, enriching it with mystics, fantasies and depth of the emotional experience of the soul.

Overall, Middle Ages is indeed very vivid and different time, when the world changed constantly. Exactly then nations, which we have now, were formed, as well as there have been laid a basis for our modern languages, even modern customs were determined. It was the time, when the nations found themselves, established their borders, languages, fashions and mentality, some countries were founded and some, even very powerful once, disappeared for good.

It was also the time of mysteries, as the church had a great influence on people, on their routine and thoughts. One of the most famous and mystical works is a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders from wool and silk, from designs drawn in Paris around 1500 called Lady with the Unicorn. The public attention was drawn to them by a well-known novelist George Sand, who saw them in 1844. All were woven in wool and silk, showing a richly dressed lady flanked by a lion on her right and a unicorn on her left both bearing a banner, with a mille fleurs (thousand flowers) background containing animals and birds. Five of them depict senses: taste, hearing, sight, smell, and touch. The sixth is called “À mon seul désir” (my only desire), and it is still unknown what it means.


” mon seul désir”

As a reaction to the cooling temperatures of the Little Ice Age, in 1500s clothes were usually voluminous and worn in several layers. In the tapestries, lady often shows us the different layers of clothing (forming the newly brought into the fashion the hourglass silhouette), all of them, however, of obviously very rich materials, including beautiful embroidery and wide use of jewels and gold. These times, clothes were seen as the mark of a status of a person, they were elaborated carefully in each detail, showing sometimes the craftsmanship of the woman of the house herself. You might read “The song of Nibelungs” (German epic poem), which is outstanding in showing medieval life, including this part of it.



The hair of the lady is always covered, as an opposite one was considered to be a mark of sin. Her headgears consist as well of rich fabrics and precious gems. Vivid and rich clothes, worn in multiple layers by the beautiful melancholic virgin lady (legend tells that only a virgin can tame a unicorn) with many real and fantastic animals and flowers around her, all of this enriched with allegorical meaning… Not surprisingly, they are provoking a mass interest, which forms many hypothesizes and tales about this piece.



These tapestries were mentioned a lot in books and movies, many people were charmed by their mystery, enriched with bright colors and excellent craftsmanship. Perhaps, almost everyone has seen the Harry Potter movies. At least, my generation rose on them. Have you ever noticed what hangs on the walls of the Gryffindor tower?


Eager to hear your questions and suggestions,

Victoria Ventonni

Historic of Art and Fashion


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