25 March 2017

MYSTICAL UNICORN HUNT

MYSTICAL UNICORN HUNT

This is an ink drawing on a 5" × 7" piece of calfskin vellum. I drew it using calligraphers’ inks applied with dip pens and brushes.

The original was created on private commission.

It is formatted as a verso page in an illuminated manuscript. The central image depicts a mystical unicorn hunt as an allegory of the Incarnation of Christ.

The unicorn is a long-established Christological symbol. The second century Physiologus, precursor to the medieval bestiaries, described the unicorn as
a small animal, but exceeding strong and fleet, with a single horn in the centre of its forehead. The only means of capturing it is by stratagem, namely, by decking a chaste virgin with beautiful ornaments and seating her in a solitary place in the forest frequented by the unicorn, which no sooner perceives her than it runs to her and, laying its head gently in her lap, falls asleep. Then the hunters come and take it captive to the king’s palace and receive for it much treasure.
The chaste virgin who captures the unicorn of course represents the Blessed Virgin Mary. Late medieval artists combined the iconography of the Annunciation with the imagery of the unicorn hunt, representing the Archangel Gabriel as the hunter. The most elaborate of their compositions included hunting dogs representing mercy, truth, justice and peace; Old Testament prefigurements of the Annunciation; and the Marian titles from the Canticle of Canticles.

In this drawing, I included the Enclosed Garden, the Closed Door, the Tower of Ivory and the Tower of David. Specific works of art that provided inspiration for the figures are a panel painting from the circle of Martin Schongauer and the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry.

The ornamental border surrounding the central image contains branches of magnolia, dog rose and oak.

Read more here.

MYSTICAL UNICORN HUNT

I have also issued a letterpress print of this drawing, with a different border (containing branches of the plants that yield coffee, tea, cocoa and vanilla) and a pattern of orthogonal letters spelling the words AVE MARIA in the background sky. Read more here.

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Works quoted:

Physiologus, quoted by Edward Payson Evans, Animal Symbolism in Ecclesiastical Architecture, (W. Heinemann, 1896).

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