Dutton, Jan 2004, 23.95, 250pp
In 1490, having purchased his way into the aristocracy, French nobleman Jean Le Viste, feeling self-important, tries to further impress the King and his court on how worthy a person he is. He commissions artist Nicholas des Innocents to design tapestries for Le Viste. Jean's disappointing spouse, a failure for begetting three girls and no male heirs, wants unicorns as the stars
However Nicholas finds his patron's daughter Claude as the inspiration for the work as he and she fall in love. However, her social climbing father would never allow his daughter to have anything to do with an artisan. Jean takes the drawings to Brussels where the drawings are converted into six lush six tapestries depicting a Lady and the Unicorn.
On the surface THE LADY AND THE UNICORN seems like a repeat of the invigorating GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING that used a masterpiece to tell the story of the model that posed for the painting, but that is not really the case here. Though Tracy Chevalier uses the real tapestries hanging in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris, she paints a different story. This time a fabulous romance for the ages serves as a backdrop to an in-depth look at life in Paris and Brussels for the aristocracy and especially the artisans and a delightful look at the fifteenth century tapestry industry struggling to meet a tight time line with a quality product as Ms. Chevalier has done with her pioneering of a historical sub-genre that does to the arts what Stoppard did to Hamlet.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner