THE LADY ANDTHE UNICORN – SMELL


“Potent Pheromones can act as powerful aphrodisiacs …. for you!” an add for Luvessentials on the web. But, according to the Wikipedia entry there have been very few well-controlled scientific studies published that suggest the possibility of pheromones in humans. Pheromones were first discovered by a German Biologist Adolf Butenandt, while studying silkworms in 1959.

Sexual Attraction is only one of the many ways nature uses pheromones. Female Rabbits release a mammary pheromone to trigger nursing behavior in their babies; it cal trigger alarm bells in bees; dogs and cats “mark” their territory, etc.

In 1985 Patric Susskind wrote ‘n novel about a murderer who lived in France somewhere in the 1800’s. The boy had an uncannily good sense of smell, but no body odor. He finds work with a master-perfumer, learning to mix the most exquisite perfumes for their patrons. He murders his first girl without meaning too, but this leads him to his quest to mix the perfect love-perfume for himself by using his victim’s body odor for a perfume, with unexpected results.

This novel takes the sense of smell to a whole new level, and brings me back to our Lady and her unicorn. In this tapestry she is receiving a basket of flowers from her handmaiden. The monkey is smelling one of the flowers, that is why we know it is about smell. But keeping my meaning in mind, I am thinking, yes, though she will not attract her lover with pheromones, our sense of smell is important enough to feature in this drama. We have all experienced the way in which smell can play a role in the way we remember things – we associate objects, or situations with a certain smell. If her lover thinks of her every time he sees or smells a fresh flower, the lady has surely won him over!

This brings me back to the advert I mentioned in the beginning. Perfume. We have been inundated with adverts for an ever expanding market for perfumes. Has it always been this way? I have in my possession two old Huisgenoot magazines, one from 1937, and one from 1947, also a Woman’s Weekly from 1969 (my grandmother loved them) In all three I could only find two adverts for perfume, KWV eau de cologne for the bath, and Yardley English Lavender. Another reason for me to think that we are reverting to a Medieval sensibility?
I have not yet decided how to depict the sense of smell in an artwork, but am working on it.

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