Rafael and the Curious Unicorn
I came across this very curious painting by Rafael, supposedly influenced by Leonardo's contemporary Mona Lisa, in which she is depicted holding a tiny unicorn. It is a striking picture without the unicorn, but with the addition of the unicorn it really sparks the imagination. The unicorn would seem to be a simple symbol, but could be a more significant arcane reference.
Following is a pertinent quote from Wikipedia:
The portrait appears to have been influenced by the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo between 1503 and 1506. The work was of uncertain attribution until recent times. In the 1760 inventory of the Gallery, the subject of the painting was identified as Saint Catherine of Alexandria and attributed to Perugino. A restoration of the painting in 1934-36 confirmed art historian Roberto Longhi's hypothesis that the work was by Raphael, and the removal of heavy repainting revealed the unicorn, traditionally a symbol of purity in medieval romance, in place of a Saint Catherine wheel. Later restoration work on the painting in 1959 revealed the image of a dog, even earlier than the unicorn, also a symbol of chastity and conjugal fidelity. The young woman in the painting was a bride and this painting was a wedding gift to the engaged couple from Raphael.