Marc De Kesel

A balancing act on a branch. 

And on that branch a knight, a lady and a unicorn.  

Meekly, the latter lays down head and horn on the lady’s lap. At last, he is where he belongs. You can read it from the delight on his face. 

The face of the lady speaks a different language. Does she look into the mirror? Or is she spying – beyond the mirror – the knight who, at that very moment, is driving his lance through the unicorn’s smiling body? Anyway, this is what his eyes are saying. 


What will follow is not difficult to guess. But it isn’t that sure either, if only because of the branch on which the entire drama balances.

It is a strange, somewhat villainous gift, occurring on that branch. A knight wants to give himself to a lady, who within a few minutes will give herself – will she? – to him, be it not without first having killed her beloved unicorn. ‘A deadly gift love is’: is this the message the lady reads from her face in the mirror? 

Love is gift. It is giving what you don’t have (Lacan). The lady does not have the unicorn. She possibly might think that, but later, when the knight will have taken the unicorn away from her, she will lack nothing. Did she not, with her charms, capture the unicorn for no other reason than, precisely, to present it to her knight’s lance? Is that capture and its demolition not the condition required to give herself to him? And for her knight, to give himself to her? 

What do lovers give to one another? They give each other nothing. A deadly nothing which, by the heavenly force of smiling, is always already immediately repressed. 

This is the weird miracle of love. And, yet, only therefore, living on the shaky branch of love is possible.   


However, that nothing is never simply nothing. It at least requires an infinite amount of words, songs, images, and stories. One of them – a Christian one, tremendously popular during the Middle Ages (and later prohibited by the Council of Trent) – tells, precisely, about a unicorn, who was no one else that Christ himself. 

Enjoying heaven’s glory, God’s son knows he must leave, to descend down into our world of death and sin, and, there, to incarnate himself so he could save us from our mortal, sinful condition. But this is not precisely what his divine guards, the angels, can allow. They won’t let him go, and when he nonetheless escapes, they all go after him. Angels become hunters, hunters in search for Christ-Unicorn. And the latter has to run as fast as he can, for he has to find his Virgin and, with his horn, has to fertilize her, so he finally could be born as man, as mortal being, ready to, by his death, save us from that very death. 

Go to New York, to ‘The Cloisters’ Museum, and admire there the beautiful Flemish Unicorn Tapestries.