Saturday, July 12, 2014

Gryffindor Common Room: Lady with the Unicorn Tapestry

I know I just wrote what is basically a treatise about the importance of art in film and the importance of highlighting certain pieces of art in film as to attempt to gauge attitudes towards art in society. That being said, I'm publishing a post about art that has no bearing, aside for cosmetic purposes, towards the plot. Nor does this piece reflect any emotional or metaphorical meanings of the film itself. It's just kinda cool. Which is reason enough to publish a tiny blog post.
The First Years are welcomed into the Gryffindor Common Room.
A clear view of the "Desire" Panel in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
It's Harry Potter Weekend; that means I've been rewatching and rereading all my favorite installments of the series. I can't help myself. I was hooked since childhood and even though the last few films were slightly painful for me, I not only watched them, I enjoyed them. C'est la vie.

Still, I was watching this batch of Harry Potter with a more critical eye, at least in terms of art. I would love to be able to write about the wonderful moving paintings of Hogwarts, but alas, I think computer animation is to thank for most of them. Still, that does not mean all is lost because I was able to spot a wonderful tapestry in the most unlikely of places. I'm being sarcastic, it was right on the wall where it belongs but in a slightly different format.
The tapestry/wallpaper is clear in all the scenes that take place in the Common
Room, just like this scene from The Goblet of Fire
Thanks to the Childcraft books of the '70s, I have a great recollection of a few hundred random pieces that are highlighted in the book. And one of those pieces (in the chapter, "Animal Fair") is one of the panels of the famously beautiful Lady with the Unicorn Tapestry. It is a 16th century French tapestry that is in six separate panels. From what I can tell, the tapestry (which currently resides in the Cluny Museum of Paris) is a visualization of the senses (with "desire" being the sixth sense) and a celebration of a fantastically beautiful lady. The titular unicorn appears in all the panels with the titular lady, as well as a lion and sometimes a monkey. From the cursory research I've done outside of Childcraft, it is believed that the lion and unicorn are part of some lord's heraldry, but the exact lord or lady is unknown.
The Lady with the Unicorn (16th century French tapestry)
Cluny Museum, Paris
So, how does this wonderful tapestry end up on the walls of Gryffindor Common Room? I have a few suggestions as to why the production designers were attracted to this particular tapestry. First of all, it is fairly well known because of its gorgeous red field and its titular magical creatures. The unicorn is a magical creature hence it would be at place in a school of witchcraft and wizardry. Secondly, the medieval tapestry goes well with the very medieval vibe of Hogwarts, which is, after all, a castle first and foremost.(Though perhaps a French tapestry would be more at home at Beauxbatons Academy, but I digress). Thirdly, the house symbol (or sigil in the Game of Thrones world) is a lion. As I stated earlier, a lion appears in the panels. Finally, Gryffindor's colors are maroon and gold just like the primary motif of the tapestry. With its mix of imagery, color, and magic theme, The Lady and the Unicorn just make sense on the walls of Hogwarts.

As a final note, the tapestry does not appear in tapestry form. It looks more like ornate wallpaper. Of course, we know better. Finally, it looks like the "Desire" tapestry is the primary panel from which the designers created their pseudo-wallpaper. I'm making this assumption based on the blue tent which figures heavily in "Desire" and on the Common Room walls.
A view of the set

Have you noticed any more real art influences in the magical world of Harry Potter? If you have or if you are interested about any particular pieces from the films, please let me know!


  1. Hi. Your postin about film is so interested. Introduce me, i'm hendry from Indonesia. We can share about art and film. This is my blog,
    I hope you can visit my blog :)

  2. Did you know those lights are electric? Hope they can pay their power bills unless that's why in a lot of fanfics Dumbledore is caught stealing from the Potter's *rich* accounts because that's how he pays Mr Bill the bills.

    I wonder what things were like for the Marauders during the Oil Crisis of the 1970s when there was shortages of shortages.

  3. One thing I've been curious is if it ever snows hard enough to shut down Diagonal Alley? The rest of London closes over 2-4 centimeters of snow and freaks out over the forecast of snow regardless if it pans out or fizzles out.


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