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NLM Lends from Its Historical Collections to The Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition “Search for the Unicorn”

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is pleased to be included in a new exhibition, which opened May 15 and runs through August 18, 2013, at The Cloisters museum and gardens, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art for medieval art and architecture in New York City. Search for the Unicorn: An Exhibition in Honor of The Cloisters’ 75th Anniversary places the institution’s famous Unicorn Tapestries within the larger context of medieval and Renaissance art, revealing the mythical animal’s persistent inspirational role in artistic imagination over the centuries and in the emerging history of natural science.

Given by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in time for the opening of The Cloisters in 1938, the Unicorn Tapestries are its best-known masterpieces; yet, 75 years later, their history and meaning remain elusive. They have been seen both as complicated metaphors for Christ and as emblems of matrimony, and they are beloved as quaint indications of medieval notions about the natural world. This exhibition of some 40 works of art drawn from the collections of the Metropolitan, sister institutions, and private collections invites audiences to see the Unicorn Tapestries anew, as the finest expression of a subject widely treated across cultures, and in both European art and science.

Featured in Search for the Unicorn are two items from the NLM’s historical collections, Pierre Pomet’s Histoire générale des drogues (1694) and al-Qazwini’s Wonders of Creation (ca. 1700). Wonders of Creation was compiled originally in the middle 1200s and is considered one of the most important natural history texts of the medieval Islamic world. It is featured in NLM’s Turning the Pages program. Pomet’s Histoire générale des drogues is primarily a historical examination and description of drugs and medicines, and examines unicorns because of the magical healing properties attributed to their horns.

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