Flower Power

Happy Friday! Today on Museum Bites we’re tiptoeing through the tulips. From their humble beginnings in the foothills of Central Asia to the fertile fields of the Dutch countryside, the tulip has a rich and illustrious history. This colorful bloom has traveled the world, influencing ancient Turkish headgear, sparking a financial crisis, and inspiring art and song. We begin with the Ottoman Empire…

Hanap with Tulips, Hyacinths, Roses & Carnations (16th Century), Art Institute of Chicago
Hanap with Tulips (16th Century), Art Institute of Chicago

Tankard Tulip:  Our first tulip tribute is a colorful Hanap (c1570-1599) on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. Crafted from fritware and etched with an array of tulips, hyacinths, roses, and carnations this flowery tankard was created in Iznik, a region renowned for its iconic Turkish tiles. Experts believe when the hanap was not being used to gulp down a tasty brew, it was put into service as a flower pot or vase.

Wild tulips originated in the rugged terrain of the Tien Shan and Pamir mountains of Central Asia. They were first cultivated and domesticated by Süleyman I the Magnificent (c1494-1566) of the Ottoman Empire. He commissioned vast gardens and lavish parties celebrating these exotic bulbs. The word tulip originates from tülbent, the Turkish word for turban. The extravagant turbans worn by sultans during this era resemble the bulbous tulip blossom. If you’d like to learn more about tulip history click on this short video courtesy of the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. To view more ancient Middle Eastern pottery and learn more about fritware, click on this Museum Bites: Glowing Colors link.

Arty Tulip:  The tulip and Judith Leyster (1609-1660) both made a splash on the Dutch scene in the mid-1600s. A rare, independent female artist, Leyster is best known for her still lifes and portraits of jolly folk. Leyster also dabbled in flower catalogs. She painted colorful renditions of a wide variety of blossoms, most notably the tulip. After her marriage to fellow artist, Jan Miense Molenaer in 1636, her work tapered off. It is unclear whether this was due to domestic obligations or to support her husband’s artistic career.

In 1893, Leyster’s La Joyeuse Compagnie (1630) sparked a controversy when it was acquired by the Louvre. The painting was originally attributed to Leyster’s fellow Haarlem artist, Frans Hals. However, a faked Hals signature had been painted over Leyster’s unique monogram, a five-pointed star with her initials. An investigation ensued and discovered seven additional paintings by Leyster had been misattributed. Click on this Judith Leyster link courtesy of Google Arts & Culture to view more of her work.

Fun Flowery Fact:  According to historian, Anne Goldgar, the Dutch Tulpenwindhandel of the 1630s was less tulip mania and more tulip meh. In her book, Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age (2008), she debunks much of the tulip lore related to this time in Dutch history.

Tiffany Tulip:  Our next tulip is on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Tulip Vase (1895) by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was crafted from the artist’s signature favrile glass and is a shimmering homage to this exquisite flower.

A talented and prolific artist, Tiffany had an illustrious career crafting glass works for the rich and famous. From his iconic lamps to stained glass windows and fireplace screens Tiffany decorated a variety of Gilded Age mansions, including Mark Twain’s Hartford House, Manhattan’s Havemeyer House, and most famously, the White House. Click on this Museum Bites: Cutting Edge link to learn more about Tiffany’s life and work.

Midcentury Mod Tulip:  Our final tribute to the tulip is the Tulip Armchair (1955-1956) by Eero Saarinen (1910-1961). This retro chair is quintessential midcentury modern with its sleek curves and all-in-one simplicity. Saarinen, a darling of midcentury modern, eschewed clutter. His designs ranged from the humble chair to churches, hockey rinks, airport terminals and most famously, the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

The undercarriage of chairs and tables in a typical interior makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs. I wanted to make the chair all one thing again.
~Eero Saarinen, in reference to the Tulip Chair.

If you’d like to learn more about midcentury modern design, click on Museum Bites: Mod Façade.  And if you’re mad about chairs, check out Museum Bites: Cheers for Chairs.

That concludes our celebration of tulips. I’m off on an adventure for the next couple of weeks and will be back in June with more Museum Bites. Until then, have a fantastic May!

Tulip, Photo by Jochem van Stempvoort, Pixabay-100px Cover photo by Jochem van Stempvoort courtesy of Pixabay.


Amsterdam Tulip Museum

Amsterdam Tulip Museum: History of the Tulip

Art Institute of Chicago: Hanap

Art Institute of Chicago: Tiffany Tulip Vase

Britannica: Glass

Britannica: Judith Leyster

Britannica: Tulip

Britannica: Tulip Mania

Corning Museum of Glass: Favrile

Google Arts & Culture: Judith Leyster

Google Arts & Culture: Tulip

Google Arts & Culture: Tulip Chair

Merriam Webster: Doublets Tulip & Turban

Museum Bites: Cheers for Chairs

Museum Bites: Cutting Edge

Museum Bites: Glowing Colors

Museum Bites: Mod Facade

Museum Bites: Tiptoeing Through the Tulips

Museum of Modern Art: Tulip Chair

National Gallery of Art: Judith Leyster

National Museum of Women in the Arts: Judith Leyster


Smithsonian Magazine

The Art Story: Eero Saarinen

Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age (2008) by Anne Goldgar

Widewalls: Judith Leyster

Wikimedia Commons


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