Medieval Magic at the Art Gallery of NSW

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This weekend, the wonderful The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW finishes.  Kenn and I were lucky enough to be able to visit while we were in Sydney for the Vivid Festival a week or so ago.  These tapestries are revered as a national treasure in France and it is only the third time the tapestries has left France in 500 years, thanks to  a fabulous loan from the collection of the Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris. 

We chose to visit in the early afternoon which allowed us time for a leisurely walk to the ferry along the Middle Harbour and Fairlight foreshores.   It’s a short walk from Circular Quay to the Art Gallery and before we knew it, we had purchased tickets and were making our way through the exhibition.

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Welcoming visitors with music!

 I love how galleries make exhibitions so interactive. There were weaving workshops where visitors could begin to understand the incredible skill and complexity of these medieval works of art by trying their hand at weaving as well as  an audio visual presentation providing a deeper insight into the history, preservation and interpretations of  the tapestries.

But it was of course the tapestries themselves which were so wonderful. Each one was the size of a room and the detail was mind blowing when one considers that these works of art were created by medieval human hands. Not on a  computerised industrial loom!

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The colours were so rich and the detail so intricate.

It was possible to sit and view the tapestries from a distance and also get up quite close. They allowed personal photography as well so Kenn and I had fun with our phones. I found the details within the tapestries themselves captivating, from the animals and flowers to the different dresses and jewelry the Lady wears in each tapestry. And who doesn’t love a unicorn?

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And how cute is this little dog, not to mention the detail on her skirt. I can’t believe that this was actually woven!
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And the unicorns had different expressions on each tapestry.  And the little animals that were dotted here and there like the bunnies were so cute!

Having looked our fill, it was time for a late lunch. As we exited, beautiful scents  wafted over  from somewhere over in the corner and we decided that this would be our lunch destination. No wonder it smelt so good, we found ourselves seated at harbour view table for two in a Matt Moran restaurant!

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Service and food were exemplary.  The menu is based on his dishes made famous from Aria. An unexpected bonus to an already wonderful afternoon.

We finished our visit to the Art Gallery with a quick runaround the free exhibits.  I enjoyed this exhibition just as much but in a different way to the exhibition I attended when the Book of Kells came to Australia.  Thanks to  ‘Game of Thrones’,  many now associate medieval times with political intrigue, violence, superstition and fantastical, fire breathing dragons but artistic masterpieces like these tapestries, tell us there was something more, something more poetic and gentle.

I heard on the news the other day,  that the travelling King Tut exhibition is coming to Sydney before returning to Egypt. Another world treasure to look forward to! Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

 

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Vivid at Taronga Zoo

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Turtles swimming above us

 The Vivid Festival is on in Sydney and will run until the 16th June. Like so many others, Kenn and I traveled to Sydney last weekend  to wonder at the wonderful outdoor lighting sculptures and installations that surround the harbour. Coincidentally, there  was also an exhibition of Medieval French Tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, at the Art Gallery that we’d been wanting to see and best of all, we had some quality time with our beautiful little grand-daughters, Genevieve  and Francesca.

Although generally the weather could have been better, we did have one beautiful sunny winter’s day. Kenn and I spent the morning with Genevieve revisiting favourite haunts: the train park down the road, a bushwalk down to Forty Baskets on the harbour and the playground at Middle Harbour Reserve.  It was such a beautiful day that you just knew something wonderful was going to happen and it did. Opposite the playground at Middle Harbour reserve is a delightful cafe: Forty Beans. It had been a hot and thirsty morning trekking uphill and down dale not to mention the upper arm workout one gets from pushing an enthusiastic 3 year old on the swings. I eyed off an inviting table nestled in the sunshine.

“Genevieve would you like  to visit the cafe for some morning tea and a babyccino?”

“That sounds delicious,” she replied.

So hand in hand, Kenn, Genevieve and I walked across and snared our sunshiny table. Drinks ordered, we made ourselves comfy and looked around.  There, lying right in front of us, was the loveliest, most gentle Malumute.  He  was so, so big yet so, so quiet. He had found himself a shady spot and was patiently waiting for his designated human to finish her coffee.  We were captivated.

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Titus’ owner helped Genevieve to pat him and say hello and chat. Such a beautiful moment.

All too soon, it was nap time for Genevieve and ferry time for us.

Following the foreshore path along Fairlight Beach, we reached the ferry with two minutes to spare. Perfect timing I thought.  We spent a delightful afternoon at the Art Gallery ( will share soon in my next post) before exploring the Vivid installations around Circular Quay, all of which are free. While the installations on the major buildings are spectacular, I particularly liked the installations in the Botanic Gardens which we accessed from the Opera House gate. You can wander through a light forest, watch a  lagoon awash with tiny twinkling lights that resemble thousands of tiny glow worms or see images of some of the world’s most famous floral artworks projected onto easels in an enclosed garden just to mention a few. And all the while, the gentle sounds of the harbour and the twinkling lights of the city surround you.

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incredible trees
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the lagoon awash with lights

 

But the best was yet to come. Christian and Kelly had organised for us to go to Vivid at the Zoo on Saturday night. As the time drew closer I was a little concerned as the weather was looking decidedly dodgy: very cold, rainy and windy.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained so rugged up like Eskimos (I was wearing more layers than an onion) and armed with umbrellas, we set off.  Much to my relief, the wind dropped and the rain ceased and the wonder of the night unfolded before us.

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We entered under a canopy of lights with turtles swimming overhead.

There is a designated circuit that you follow and it was a surreal experience to wander along  familiar paths being delighted by the light sculptures knowing that just beyond the light, in the darkness, the animals were sleeping or maybe watching us. I loved how around each bend there was another surprise: sometimes in the trees, sometimes beside us, sometimes in front of us.

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Yes, we are watching you!
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This was definitely a tiger burning bright
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in the forest of the night.
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The sculptures also remind us of endangered creatures
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like this magnificent rhinoceros

 

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While the detailing is  intricate and beautiful, the sense of menace remained

And here and there, as you wander down the path before climbing to the entrance, there are views across the laser-lit harbour to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Of course this was difficult to capture on a mobile phone but hopefully, this pic gives you an inkling of the vista.

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Nor were the birds and insects ignored.  These are a couple that particularly caught our eye.

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He looks ready for a chat
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They captured the gossamer wings I think but thank goodness we don’t have insects this big!!!

And the way our Australian animals were re-imagined was truly magical.

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Isn’t the little devil cub cute?
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And I love the aboriginal art work here
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The echidnas were animated. Their tongues flicked in and out eating the ants.
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Anyone for a swimming platypus  suspended above a river garden?

And of course the creatures of the sea: from sea horses and turtles to a huge shark that we exited through.

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I decided that this was a girl sea horse: so pretty in pink
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Turtle mania
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At the end, you exit through the belly of a shark
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The exterior view of this giant installation! So impressive. What a final memory.

Vivid at the Zoo is not free but is well worth the price of admission. I can only show you a snippet of what there is to see and hopefully you might get the opportunity to go and experience Vivid at the Zoo for yourself.  And as well as the installations, we loved seeing the look of delight on the faces that surrounded us from little ones to the elderly. There is something very uplifting about being in such a throng of really happy and enchanted people.

There were plenty of public transport options but we decided to drive and there was enough parking at the zoo. If you felt like it, there were plenty of food and drink outlets as well.

I cannot recommend this experience highly enough and can’t wait to go back next year.

PS:  A special thank you to Kenn for letting me share his lovely photos with you all.