The ornamental park has finally opened again after the long winter/early spring period so I decided to go and admire, amongst other things, the tulips.
However I soon realized that I was a little late, since most of these were fully blown, tattered and twisted but I thought that their weird forms and tainted colours gave them a second beauty after the first exuberance that I had missed. So perhaps beauty isn't that transcient after all!
The tulip, national emblem of Holland, was used in the 17th century Dutch still life paintings (stilleven) as one of the symbols of ephemeral beauty and pleasure, and the transcience of man's time on Earth.
As artists could no longer use religious images in their work following their ban by the Dutch Reformist Protestant church they turned to indirect religious and allegorical symbolism.
There was already an established tendancy towards realism and the use of symbols, so this could also be seen as a further development of this tradition. Reflection on morality and mortality was central in much art, especially in a country benefitting from a great influx of wealth brought by the trade routes, yet still ravaged by devastating outbreaks of the Bubonic plague.
Indeed, the Netherlands witnessed a great increase in the number of wealthy merchants and a growing bourgeois element in the population, all aspiring to develop and, more importantly, demonstrate this wealth and new social status. It could even be said that the Dutch were the first members of the consumer society. Such middle-class patrons soon replaced the church and state in commissioning works of art that would serve to leave their trace on the world around them "Ars long, vita brevis" (Art lasts long, life is brief).
The Vanitas were an essential part of this aesthetic trend. Vanitas - meaning emptiness in latin - referred to the futility and transcience of life and the vanity of man's attempt to escape this. Memento mori - reminders of mortality and death abound in such paintings, hence the recurrent skulls, hourglasses and watches to measure time, burnt-down candles, bubbles ready to burst, full-blown, fading flowers and rotting fruit. These symbols underlined the brevity of existence and man's need for morality in order to face the Last Judgement.
Although not actually native to the Low Countries, the tulip was introduced there from Turkey where it was cultivated in the sultans' palaces, having initially been a wildflower in Persia. Legend has it that a young Persian man, Ferhad, died from his unrequited love for the beautiful Shirin, and as his tears fell and hit the ground they transformed into the flower.
The Ottoman tulip, known as a lily to the Turks, was later called the tulipan, owing this name to tulbend, meaning 'turban' as it was considered to be shaped like the head dress.
It was the great variation in shape, colour uniformity, patterns and petal formation and the unbridled desire to seek ever-greater originality that was to drive individuals to the height of folly and the country, as a whole, to financial ruin.
The Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius brought back the first specimens to the Netherlands and went on to classify and cultivate new types of tulip. As a rarety, it was a much-coveted status symbol in the 1570's but cheaper varieties enabled the middle classes to start collecting and thus tulip mania was born.
Due to a disease transmitted by aphids, a tulip bulb would develop streaks and alterations in colour, leading to highly unusual flowers. Buyers and sellers entered into a flambuoyant game of speculation, gambling fortunes in the hope of obtaining a single bulb that would 'break' (develop a break, or change in its colouration) in a unique manner.
|Dusty, feathery flowers;|
|Trimmed with a frilly border.|