Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

This book found its way into my TBR shelves some years ago. Mainly because I loved The Girl with the Pearl Earring so much. The last story was woven around a painting by Johannes Vermeer with the same name, and considered to be one of his master pieces. This book is about another painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of a Girl. Not much is known about the painting, but it is thought to have been done around 1490.

Inspired by this painting Tracy Chevalier has written a tale of a painter, a young girl from the upper classes, her mother and the weavers of tapestries in Brussels. The painter, Nicolas des Innocents,  gets a commission to make paintings which will be transfered into tapestries. He falls in love with the daughter of the noble man, and it seems, in most women that come his way. Once the paintings are ready he leaves for Brussels where the real weaving masters work. Here he gets involved with the family of the weaving master, who is taking on the challenge of his life in producing the tapestries with a tight time frame. The influence of the charming painter also upsets the family's routines and plans for the future.

I did not like this novel as much as the 'earring' one, although it is a rather more burlesque story. Maybe because the narration changed in each chapter.  The story is told from the views of the painter, the daughter, the mother, and the daughter and wife of the weaver. This approach provides an insight into the various worlds of the characters, that is true, but it somehow made it more 'unruly' for me. On the other hand the characters are well drawn and the way of telling the story tells us first hand thoughts and impressions from the various persons. Each of them are 'prisoners' under their social status and the unspoken rules of society.

It is definitely worth reading and the painting can be interpreted in many ways, and Tracy Chevalier has found one of them. I find this way of telling a story, inspired by something like a painting or a historical event very appealing.


  1. I so agree with your last sentence but I haven't read either of Chevalier's books yet. Someone mentioned to me recently how much they enjoyed The Pearl Earring & I hope to read it soon. Enjoyed your review.

    1. Thank you Carol. She is definitely worth reading, writing very well. These two stories are very interesting from an historical point of view as well.