We have a special guest here at the Cincinnati Art Museum, The Lady and a Baby Unicorn. Painted by Raphael in the 1500s, and now hangs permanently in the Borghese Gardens in Rome, we were exceptionally lucky to have her for a while here. The picture is a blonde young woman holding a little baby unicorn who is bleating. She looks somber, almost hurt. The inclusion of a unicorn in her lap fairly screams that she is a pure and virginal girl. There are a few mysteries associated with this painting, it’s not just a pretty portrait of a young lady and her identity isn’t totally agreed upon to this day, though experts think she is Giulia Farnese, related to the evil Borgia Pope Alexander, in some way or another. Here are a few salient facts about her, though:
- The unicorn was originally a little dog! They found this out through x-raying the image and finding a dog underneath. Since this is thought to be a wedding portrait, the dog was to symbolize faithfulness.
- The unicorn was added later after some speculation about the bride’s virginity/purity. She may have come from a family reputed to be pretty hot blooded and so the unicorn was put in her arms to show off her goodness.
- Years later, this picture was repainted to turn the woman into St. Catherine of Alexandria. She acquired a shawl, the palm of martyrdom, and the Catherine wheel symbol which identified her.
- The pose was heavily influenced by daVinci’s Mona Lisa.
I looked at this painting and wanted to make up a perfume which would represent it and its multiple meanings. I chose a vanilla/vetiver combination for the bulk of it, the reason why is because vetiver is such a dark, earthy, sexy scent, and vanilla is a virginal fragrance. Putting together the two would cause a dichotomy of sweet foody and damp sensual. The rumor about Giulia Farnese was that she was not as pure as she wanted others to think she was, and tongues wagged she was a lusty girl. So the painting has a disapproving look and the unicorn is protesting loudly that the sitter is entirely pure. In my perfume you will find both the divinely pure and the divinely dirty. I think they belong together.