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Tulips in Art

Updated on July 25, 2018
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A librarian, family historian and artist, Jen loves to travel and take photographs

Spring flowering bulbs, tulips have long been a passionate subject for artists. One of the most popular flowers tulips are available in numerous colours and sizes. While creating this page, I stumbled across information on tulipmania, an investment craze that went bung in the 16th Century. Fascinating!

Origins of the tulip

Surprisingly Tulips do not naturally occur in nature. Their genes originate in a number of wild flowers from Central Asia and Iraq. Their antecedents are made up of a variety of colours, and delicately shaped petals.

Tulips can be traced back to the Ottoman empire. The common name is thought to come from the Turkish word meaning ‘muslin’ or ‘gauze’, referring to the turban-like appearance of a tulip in full bloom. Tulips defined nobility and privilege.

The elegant curling petals of the tulip were particularly attractive to artisans. Jugs, plates and tiles transformed basic pottery to sought after ceramics.

Interest in continuing to plant tulips is evident throughout the Ottoman areas of modern Istanbul as if to exemplify it centuries old celebration of exquisite beauty.

Pebble mosaic with tulip motif in courtyard of the Erten Konak Hotel is in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul
Pebble mosaic with tulip motif in courtyard of the Erten Konak Hotel is in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul | Source

Tulips in art

The tulip is a popular choice for depiction in the work of artists. With graceful stems, flowing leaves and an ever variable array of colours and textures, it is no wonder why this is the case.

Artwork from as early as the 17th Centrury features tulips in paintings by Judith Leyster. Judith, a Dutch golden age artist and a specialized painter of flowers, was a student of Frans Hals.

Brilliant tulip books were produced, full of beautiful illustrations of tulips. Today, these books are rare, and highly sought after.

Tulip exhibition

A past exhibition featuring twenty works from the Rijksmuseum's collection, including flower still lifes, porcelain tulip vases, dazzling glass work and exquisite textiles.

Tulips and the Dutch Golden age

The Dutch Golden age was in the 17th Century, when all things Dutch were hailed as glorious around the world.

There were a number of types of tulips: from cup-shaped, bright colored tulips to colourful jewel tones to pastel shades. Form of petals is varied, some with feathery petals, some with petals that are twisted or curled.

A famous tulip

This is a watercolour on paper of the Semper Augustus. This tulip is famous for being the most expensive tulip sold during the tulip mania in the netherlands in the 17th century.

Just one of these tulips was sold for 5,500 guilders. At the height of tulipmania in the 17th Century the price reached 10,000 gilders. Imagine how many people that amount of money back then would have fed and clothed.

Guilders (or florins) were the currency of the time in the Netherlands. To give you an idea of comparative rates, in the 17th Century a tradesman such as a carpenter would earn about 250 florins per year. An enterprising merchant could earn up to 3,000 florins a year.

So not many people could afford to buy one of these tulips, but I bet a lot of them wished that they did.

Information sourced from:

Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World

Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World
Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World
Judith Leyster (1609-1660), an inspirational woman, her achievements are notable, even more so for the age in which she lived. Judith was a famous woman, a talented artist of the Dutch golden age, predominantly a profession of the male domain. Known to be successful in selling her work. This book examines the world in which Judith lived. Not only her art, but the Dutch society in the 17th Century. We are shown glimpses into Judith's life and the lives of other working women at the time. Her contemporary artists are discussed, along with the techniques which Judith employed in her work. Importantly, the book contains images of Judith's work. Each painting is critiqued in detail. For comparison, there are a number of paintings by other artists including her husband Jan Miense Molenaer


Fads aren't limited to today's electronic gadgets. In the 16th Century, if you were Dutch and didn't own a tulip or two...

Interestingly, at the time it wasn't the flowers which were of high value but the bulbs. Particularly for scarce or popular types.

Strangely though, after the market collapsed, flowers were still quite popular for the Dutch. At least in their art.

Tulipa - Judith Leyster tulip

A cultivar named after Judith Leyster, this tulip bears solitary, ivory and rose flamed, red bowl-shaped flowers on sturdy upright stems which have several leaves.

How to paint tulips like an old master

Have you ever wanted to know how to paint tulips like the master artists? Have a look at this video.

The Flowers of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau embraced a stylized approach in depicting natural forms and shapes.

Tulips, along with sunflowers, roots, buds and seedpods make up a highly recognised style along with geometric shapes and lines.

Floral motifs and elegant curves decorated items from cups to furniture and buildings.

tulip medicine cabinet
tulip medicine cabinet | Source

Tulips are a popular design motif

The graceful lines and intoxicating colours of the tulips are a drawcard for artisans. The petals, bud, leaves and even the curve of the stem can be carved, engraved, drawn, painted, gilded and the list goes on!

The motif can be a central feature such as in this plate or used in a repeated pattern.

tulip plate
tulip plate | Source
Rebound in the nineteenth century  with reddish brown morocco; stamped with gold; inner-board edges decorated with gilded tulip and bud motif
Rebound in the nineteenth century with reddish brown morocco; stamped with gold; inner-board edges decorated with gilded tulip and bud motif | Source

© 2009 Jen Wood

Guestbook Comments

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    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      8 years ago from Concord VA

      Beautiful tulip art! :)


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