Lately I have been re-reading a favourite book, “The Herb of Grace” by Elizabeth Goudge. In it, her fictional family discover in their house – a medieval Pilgrim Inn – an ancient fresco, depicting the conversion of Placidus. It is described as being very like Pisanello’s “Vision of St Eustace”, now in the National Gallery – Placidus changed his name when he converted to Christianity – but with the local wood and its animals forming the background. In fact, so enchanted was the fictional artist by the local wildlife that he filled every gap in the trees with animals, even putting land animals in the sky to fit them all in.
It is this element that appealed to me, as it is reminiscent in some ways of my favourite textile, in my favourite museum in all the world – La Dame à la licorne, in the Musée de Cluny in Paris. This is a set of medieval tapestries, depicting the mythological hunt for the unicorn, and the set is displayed in a circular room, with a set of steps down into it. When I first saw it, I sat down very suddenly on the steps, and didn’t move or speak for a good ten minutes, which gravely disconcerted my companion at the time. I’ve since dragged various friends and relations there, too, just to give myself another opportunity to visit the tapestries, not to mention visiting the Gobelins Manufactory in order to find out how such tapestries were made!
One day, I would like to create my own panel, linking La Dame à la licorne with the Vision of St Eustace. There are so many textures – the fur and feathers of the animals and birds, the splendid trappings of Placidus’ horse and his own clothes, the forest trees and flowers, and the rocky outcrop where the stag turned to face him. Just think of the wonderful variety of stitches and threads I could use!