The Unicorn and the Virtue of Chastity

Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s Triumph of Chastity was painted to celebrate a marriage. the coat of arms on the swan, also a symbol of chastity, belong to the Gabbrielli and Luti families, who celebrated a wedding in 1464. Cupid, with his wings clipped, is driven in front of the procession by two unicorns, one with its horn lowered in a threatening gesture.

While it may have been the virgin that could tame and capture a unicorn, chastity was one of the most important of medieval European virtues. Chastity in the modern world is somewhat misunderstood as never having sex. On the contrast, the abstinence of sex ended in marriage, and then one remained chaste by being faithful to one’s spouse, having sex only with them.

Living this way was no more easy then than it is today, but it was celebrated as one of the seven virtues and a clear path to heaven, unlike following the flighty fickleness of sexual desire as represented by cupid in this painting. The message: one can have love and desire only with one’s spouse, and that this was a beautify and celebrated thing. That the painter had a pair of unicorns pull the carriage of the chaste woman was a clear message of the power of such a life.

The chest being pulled would likely have contained the bride’s trousseau, and the painting likely celebrates the real transit of herself and her trousseau to the home of her groom in the hopes of a chaste and loving marriage.

You can learn more about unicorns in my forthcoming book The Reality, Mythology, and Fantasies of Unicorns, available at Amazon & Barns & Noble & the publisher’s website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s