Last week, we brought you unicorns in art. There were slutty, cuddly, and saintly unicorns. This week, we bring you more of the same rollicking cohort, and we added a new breed of magical creature: the modern unicorn, found in the 20th and 21st centuries.
1. Petrarch’s The Triumphs, 15th century. Illuminated manuscript by Cristoforo Majorana.
Like many of last week’s unicorns, this one shows the unicorn as a symbol for chastity. Not just one, but two, unicorns drag the imprisoned Cupid away where he can no longer trouble the dozens of maidens surrounding him.
This manuscript is in the collection of the New York Public Library’s Renaissance and Medieval Manuscript collection.
2. Unicorn playing card, 15th century
Here comes another slutty unicorn! Unlike those do-gooder unicorns in Petrarch, this unicorn has his paw smack dab in the lap of a furry, unclothed wild woman. She’s gently caressing his neck, his horn is at attention, and yup, I think I know what might come next between this hot couple.3. Unicorn at the 1939 New York World’s Fair
French Sculptor Pierre Bourdelle was commissioned to construct large-scale murals for the 1939 New York World's Fair. This one surrounded the entrance to the food booths because unicorn meat is tasty?4. The Male Narwahl, or Unicorn, from Goodman, John D., American Natural History, 1841
Did you know people used to call narwhals unicorns? Well, now you do. 5. Illustration from Ring O'Roses : a nursery rhyme picture book by L. Leslie Brooke, 1881
By the 19th century, unicorns came to represent Scotland, and lions, England. To this day, they’re both shown on the United Kingdom’s royal coat of arms. From “The British Unicorn” (1846):
The Lion is a terrible verity, says the world, and with his truthful strength, his awful looks, supports and watches the Royal Shield ; but the Unicorn is a nondescript nincompoop: a fib upon four legs: at the very best, a horned flam!
6. Unicorn acquamanile, 15th century
Yes, this is a German jug in the shape of a unicorn. Lucky you, The Metropolitan Museum currently has this gem on display in its galleries.
7. Gustave Moreau, The Unicorn, 1885
This painting by French Symbolist Gustave Moreau is trippy: the unicorn has a huge, wild eye and the sexy lady in red has feet larger than the unicorn’s. 8. Arthur B. Davies, Unicorns (Legend—Sea Calm), c. 1906
American artist Arthur B. Davies has been credited with bringing European-style art to the United States. The unicorn trend, maybe not so much.9. Rebecca Horn, Unicorn, 1970-72
By the time conceptual art rolled around, it would have seemed passé to paint unicorns. Instead, Rebecca Horn focused on the interminable loneliness of this outcast creature. The artist placed one of her performers in a “unicorn” outfit, where she then walked aimlessly around the countryside.
10. The Last Unicorn, 1982
This 1980s children’s film inspired a new generation of the unicorn-obsessed. No, it’s not art, but it has contributed to cementing the unicorn as a central figure in our cultural imagination. Nowadays, there are more unicorns on deviantART than humans living Orlando, Florida.11. Obama in the buff, riding a unicorn
Two of my favorite things—the magical unicorn and Barack Obama—appear in these craptastic paintings. These joke paintings fall pretty low on the spectrum of art, but they are about unicorns, and that’s enough for a listicle.12. Damien Hirst, The Child’s Dream, 2008
This baby unicorn will never grow old. It will live forever, stuck in Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde goo.