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History and Origin of the Unicorn

September 14, 2020 5 min read

We all know the Unicorn, this fairy animal is famous all over the world. But have you ever wondered where it comes from and if it ever existed? 🤔This question has been the subject of endless controversy for centuries. Whether in Europe, Asia or the Middle East, unicorns have always fascinated and aroused particular interest. Here we offer you a brief history of the figure of this magical animal and hope to teach you a few interesting facts. 😁

Unicorns in the Middle Ages

Originally, the Unicorn is a chimera, i.e. a creature made up of different animal attributes. Although one can believe it, this fantastic animal does not come like many others from mythology. 😯

Indeed, although from the Antiquity numerous stories and testimonies of explorers attest the existence of a horned animal resembling sometimes a rhinoceros, sometimes an antelope, sometimes a goat, it will be necessary to wait for the Middle Ages in the West for the figure of the Unicorn to stabilize and become anchored in the collective imagination. In the West, the Unicorn is represented in a different way from its eastern cousin, it is described here as a white horse wearing a goatee goatee, split hooves and of course its emblematic horn twisted in the middle of the forehead. 🦄


Subject of choice of the tapestries, it becomes at this time the most important fantastic animal in the West and it will remain it until the Renaissance. The Unicorn fascinates, it is said to live in symbiosis with nature, hidden at the bottom of the forests. Fiercely defending its territory against evil people, it is powerful and would be able to defeat a lion. 🦁 Her white dress is synonymous with grace and purity and is a symbol of femininity. She is said to be attracted to virgin girls and only the latter could be allowed to approach her. This imaginary is very present at that time. One does not count any more the works representing a Unicorn lying, a young virgin at her sides. Like all rare things, the creature arouses lust and many dream of capturing it. The Unicorn being a very fierce animal, it is said to use wiles to hunt it. As we learn it from many tapestries of the time, the technique would consist theoretically in using a virgin girl to bait the animal. Once the unicorn put in confidence, she is not wary any more and can be captured.

Young Girl and Unicorn Canvas

"Young girl and unicorn" Oil on Venetian canvas of 1510 by an anonymous person"

Origin of the Unicorn : The trade? 

The existence of the animal was commonly admitted in particular because of the trade around its horn. Many treaties of medicines exposed its various properties. It was said that among its many virtues, the horn of Unicorn had the power to cure diseases and to detect poison. ☠️ Indeed, in contact with the latter it would start smoking... something that must have been very practical at a time when the use of poison in food and drink to eliminate its enemies was commonplace. Her horn being very coveted, the trade generated by it was very fruitful during the late Middle Ages. 💰 Merchants were careful not to specify the origin of the horn and used the representation of the Unicorn as a rare animal to raise prices. 

The Unicorn Hunt Canvas

"Hunting at the Unicorn", Tapestry, circa 1500, unknown artist

The trade was flourishing until the Renaissance, century of the Enlightenment where, as a twist of fate, an article in the Encyclopedia announced the Unicorn as a definitely fabulous animal. 🌟 Some scientists of the time also tried to show that the properties of the so-called Unicorn horns were null and void, explaining that the horns sold so far had actually come from narwhals. This marine animal indeed has a long tooth twisted on the forehead which evokes perfectly the horn of the unicorn. The existence of the Narwhal becoming known, people more and more informed did not make any more function this trade and the price of the horn of unicorn became derisory.

Before that, it is logical that the Westerners of the time could have believed in the existence of the Unicorns. They rarely had the opportunity to see exotic animals and it was easy for them to trust the testimonies of the great travelers who told them about the existence of these animals. Moreover, the appearance of the Unicorn is much more likely than other fantastic creatures such as the dragon or the griffin. Certain animals could also have fed the myth like rhinos or antelopes. Finally, it is certain that among the testimonies and writings, some were false and could have misled gullible people.

 

What about the place of the Unicorn today?  

The existence of the unicorns being denied, it did not disappear from the spirits for all that. Raised to the rank of legendary animal, the representation of the Unicorn evolves still a little more to become that which one knows today. The modern unicorn then takes on the appearance of a large white horse endowed with magic powers and a golden or silver horn on the forehead. It loses its aggressive side and regains the image of a pure and innocent creature, hiding deep in the forests. The Unicorn is now associated with the fairy animals that populate the forest. 🌲 We imagine it associated with Merlin the Enchanter and Celtic legends. It now has its place in fantasy worlds and through the Other Side of the Mirror by Lewis Caroll, Harry Potter by JK Rowling, or in the animated series My little Pony. It can be found in multiple media. For decades, the Unicorn has never ceased to inspire artists who reinvent it for our greatest pleasure. Even if, over time, the Unicorn has gone from being a legendary animal to a much more childlike representation, often parodied on the internet, it still continues to fascinate young and old alike. 👨👩👧

The Valiant Little Suit Story

"The Valiant Little Tailor", Grimm's tales

Today the word Unicorn is definitely associated with the imaginary and the fantastic, but there is one point on which we all agree: Unicorns are real in our minds, our visions, our hearts, our symbols and our cultures.💖 This fabulous animal inspires us and makes us dream. The universe of the Unicorns enchants us and conveys a fantastic magic to us. And then we are free to dream, what if the Unicorns lived hidden? 🤫 Some say they have the capacity to make themselves invisible, maybe they live in safety, far from the glance of humanity?

If like us, the Unicorn and its universe fascinates you, that the rainbows are part of you, then you have come to the right place! Go and have a look at our Unicorn store, entirely dedicated to the incredible world of this fairy horse. We have a whole bunch of fantastic objects that will amaze you! Unicorn pyjamas as soft as the fur of this mythical animal, wonderful Unicorn slippers that will take you to fairy tales, Unicorn backpacks, Unicorn plush and Unicorn lamps! You understood it, there will be enough to find your happiness! 🤗


You love unicorns?