By Julia Cooper
The Fine Arts Program here at St. John’s is formulated and influenced in part from the old program from years past. One of the components of this shiny new art program is the Art History Discussions we have. Once every two weeks or so, we hold seminars on a piece of art led by volunteer tutors and often, a student of their choosing. These discussions actually came from what used to be Art Society! Art Society was a club formulated by current students who had an interest in exploring art history. These discussions we have today are free form, and are introduced with an opening question after a brief bio of the artist and the piece of art we are discussing. After that, its fair game for an hour and a half! These discussions are everything you loved about art history in high school, and everything you love about the St. John’s curriculum combined. Add coffee and snacks, and you’re home free!
This weekend we had the pleasure of discussing the Unicorn Tapestry with Mr. Marius Kempe, a tutor here at the college. The Unicorn Tapestries were made around 1500 with silk and gilt and would have lined the walls of a home for warmth and artistic merit. They were not just pretty things to hang on the walls, however. This Tapestry was one of a series of Unicorn Tapestries which depicted the hunt, capture, and killing of the mythical unicorn. Unicorns, however, are somewhat allegorical. They were said to be the embodiment of Christ, and the hunt of these creatures represented the human hunt and search of physical manifestations of divinity. We explored the images depicted and the stories behind the hunt from the clues given to us in the tapestries. Not much is known about this series of tapestries, pushing us towards many open ended responses to these mysterious works of art. If these tapestries are allegorical, why do we have this mythological element? What is the order of these works if there is one at all? What would this have meant in the context in which it was made and displayed? How can we understand ownership and capture of such a rare creature?