First major UK exhibition on the unicorn, Scotland’s ancient symbol, to open at Perth Museum this spring

22 January 2024
2. Tapestry fragment woven in wool and silk, depicting a unicorn, Flanders, ca.1500.© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Today, Perth Museum announced that 'Unicorn' will be the first exhibition when the doors of the new museum open to the public on 30 March 2024.

Unicorn is the first major UK exhibition to explore the cultural history of Scotland’s national animal from antiquity to the present day. Through the material culture of this mythical beast, the exhibition will explore themes such as Scottish Royalty and national symbolism that also relate to the objects and stories on display in the new permanent galleries, including the Stone of Destiny.

From Pliny to Pride, the unicorn has been an enduring yet enigmatic symbol throughout the ages; a component of medieval medicine, an emblem of Scottish royalty, a beloved children’s character, and icon of the LGBTQI+ community. The exhibition will feature spectacular objects including manuscripts, illustrations, paintings, coins, sculpture, tapestry and shop signs.

Star loans include the magical ‘Danny Jewel’, an English Elizabethan pendant jewel of narwhal horn and enamelled gold, usually on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. The V&A is also lending an intricately-carved narwhal tusk from the early 12th century. It is one of only two known medieval examples with carved decoration of foliage, human figures and serpent-tailed dragons.

Detail of narwhal tusk, carved, England, ca. 1125-1150. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The oil painting Lady and the Unicorn by the late-Renaissance Italian artist, Luca Longhi (1507-80), will be shown in the UK for the first time, on loan from the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo, highlighting the enduring symbolism of the unicorn through the Middle Ages and beyond.

A regal silver unicorn features atop the 19th century ceremonial rod or wand, part of the regalia of the Usher of the White Rod. Made around the time of King George IV’s coronation and visit to Scotland, this rod also featured as part of the Coronation of King Charles III last year. 

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Detail of a gilded and enamelled unicorn holding a shield with the lion rampant, atop a silver baton, part of the regalia of the Usher of the White Rod. © By Permission of the Trustees and Factor and Commissioner of the Walker Trust. Photography by National Museums Scotland

Perth Museum is free to enter. Tickets for Unicorn cost £10/£8 and are available to book now online; members of the Culture Perth and Kinross Supporters Scheme receive free entry. Find out more about the Perth Museum website.