I have long been fascinated by the unicorn tapestries, of which several versions exist. One set, The Hunt for the Unicorn, is at the Met in New York, and recreations of them hang in Stirling Castle in Scotland. Six tapestries, known as The Lady and the Unicorn, are currently housed at The Cluny Museum in Paris. It is believed they were created in the fifteenth century.
In this novel by Tracy Chevalier, we meet the artist who designed the French tapestries and the weaver who created them. The nobleman Jean Le Viste wants the artist Nicolas Des Innocents to create a series of battle tapestries. Jean’s wife, however, persuades Nicolas to make them unicorn tapestries. Nicolas creates a series of tapestries that tells the unicorn story but also feature each of the five senses. The sixth tapestry is title To My One Desire. Nicolas uses the images of Jean’s wife and daughter in the tapestries. He takes the drawings to the weaver, where he disdains the weaver’s family. Ultimately he uses the images of the weaver’s women, too.
The setting and craft details read well, but the best feature is the character of Nicolas Des Innocents. He is an arrogant lady’s man with a bad reputation who happens to be a great painter. Through most of the book, I admired his talent and disliked his personality. He is smooth with the women, and I understand the attraction that the various women feel for him.
The historical accuracy of this novel isn’t completely precise. The characters’ reactions sometimes seem too modern, and some readers may not like the level of raunchiness, especially on the part of a teenaged girl. If you begin the novel expecting fiction, though, it’s a very interesting read.