I am often irritated by radio announcers who talk on about the composers whose works they are about to play, some facts well known, some gathered from the internet and often tangential.

Yet, when I was working with the unicorn tapestries I wanted to know “more, more, more” about the world in which they were made.

DP118987 Defends cropped

The Unicorn Defends Himself (part)

I discovered two history books from the 1920s.  The Autumn of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga is translated from the Dutch.  The translation I have is from 1996, indicating that the book is still important.

A second, less well-known, history is Lucien Febvre’s Life in Renaissance France.  Both of these authors convey a sense of loss in describing the vitality of the era they describe.

These two books, and the energy of the tapestries themselves, persuaded me.  Pictured here is just part of one of the tapestries from the Hunt of the Unicorn series in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I’ve come to share the two authors’ sense of loss and wish I could know personally these two good writers.

 

Historians

When the world was half a thousand years
younger all events had much sharper
outlines than now.
     Johan Huizinga, Autumn of the Middle Ages (1923)

The unicorn’s realm is beyond our reach.
We cannot leap half a millennium
to dance with the lords and ladies
of the country in which he thrived.

Admiring the vigor of that age,
Lucien Febvre said we are hothouse
flowers.  The past is a mirror too distant
to give us clear sight of ourselves.

Lucien and I and Johan Huizinga
wander along cold, unswept streets,
wanting to crash the splendid parties
we are too late to attend.

Note:  “more, more, more” is a quotation from A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss.  See my post of August 28, 2013.

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