TURKISH TULIP ALBUM
An album of original drawings of tulips [Istanbul: circa 1725]. Quarto (309 x 217 mm.), 37 leaves with 49 original watercolour and bodycolour drawings, SHOWING 42 NOW EXTINCT VARIETIES OF TULIPS, and five other flowers, most with a single bloom and one leaf, inscribed in ink with the name of the variety in various tal'iq, naskhi or nesta'liq hands, the artist's signature or initial on 5 leaves, most leaves numbered in a single Arabic hand. Various paper stocks: 24 of the drawings recto and verso of 12 laminated leaves; 3 on tinted papers; 2 on heavily oxidised sheets. The first four drawings mounted within elaborate ruled, gilded and marbled borders (the first of these depicts an orange tulip in a spray including a rose and a marigold); two drawings with double gilt and ink-ruled borders; one mounted within a double gilt and ink-ruled border, the single tulip flower against a background of stylised foliage, flowers and birds in gilt; six with no borders (five of tulips, one of these unfinished, and one of a narcissus and a cyclamen on a single sheet); 36 others within a simple ruled and gilt border. (Some borders shaved affecting the numeration and/or the decorative borders, some old light dampstaining.) Contemporary brown goatskin, covers with outer simple triple fillet border in gilt and blind with central deeply impressed gilt floral medallion, with some detailing in gilt added by hand, dark brown goatskin liners, blind-stamped with central floral medallion (rebacked, some old dampstaining to covers, resewn through later guards, stitching weak). Provenance: Ekrem Hakki Ayverdi; Pierre Berès; Robert de Belder.
A UNIQUE PICTORIAL RECORD OF FORTY-TWO VARIETIES OF THE EXQUISITE AND NOW LONG-VANISHED ISTANBUL TULIP, THE CULTIVATION OF WHICH REACHED ITS CLIMAX DURING THE YEARS KNOWN AS THE TULIP PERIOD, THE 'LâLE DEVRI' OF SULTAN AHMET III (1703-1730). The distinctive almond-shaped Istanbul tulip, seen as the symbol of the Ottoman court and beloved of artists and poets, was cultivated with extraordinary passion among wealthy Ottoman dignitaries in the first three decades of the 18th-century, and especially the twelve years from the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718 to the deposition of Ahmet III in 1730, from which the De Belder album dates. At one time as many as fifteen hundred of these distinctive varieties were recorded and bulbs are said to have changed hands for as much as 1,000 Turkish gold lira. But by the end of the century the Istanbul tulip with its six slender, delicately tapering petals, had vanished for ever. A favourite decorative motif, it is shown in Ottoman tiles, in brocaded silks and in miniatures, but in a stylised form. The drawings of the artist signing himself 'Mehmed Bendegân' (Mehmed, one of the ruler's servants) depict the most sought-after tulips of his day in a uniquely lively and naturalistic style. His flowers, delicately shaded in pink, red, mauve, orange, yellow or cream, conform to the criteria required of the tulip in the Mizan'1 Ezhar (The Habit of Flowers), the authoritative treatise on the subject of the cultivation of flowers written in 1703 by eyh Mehmed Lâlezari. No other pictorial record of so many varieties of the Istanbul tulip is known to have survived.
The fall of Ahmet III in 1730 marked the end of the years of pleasurable entertainments, of the tulip festivals, illuminations and fireworks, and of the fragile pavilions and pleasure domes that characterised his reign. From the 1750s the Istanbul tulip began to disappear and by the end of the century its beguiling form was no longer to be seen in the gardens of the Ottoman capital. The De Belder tulip album is a unique record of this beautiful flower at the pinnacle of its cultivation in 18th-century Istanbul.
From the 16th century, the Turkish love of flowers was much remarked upon by European travellers who marvelled at the gardens of Istanbul, where the Sultan himself by 1561 owned no fewer than sixty-one gardens along the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, Imperial ambassador to the Ottoman Porte from 1554-1562, who is credited with the introduction of the tulip bulb to Western Europe, writes of his arrival in a district near Istanbul where on all sides he observed quantities of flowers, narcissi, hyacinths, and 'tulipans' flowering even in mid-winter. He particularly noted the cost, commenting that Turks would not hesitate to pay several aspres for a fine bloom. Evliya Çelebi recorded in the 1630s that in Istanbul there were 80 flowershops and 300 florists, and that the gardens of the Bosphorus were decorated with tulips and hyacinths, and there were places for tulip garden ('lâlezar') viewing excursions. In May 1673, Antoine Galland noted in his journal the beauty of the road fron Istanbul, 'parsemé de vastes campagnes de tulipes et d'anémones jusques à Bourgas'.
Of all the spring flowers, it was the tulip which became the most important to Ottoman society, occupying a unique place at the pinnacle of horticultural fashion, and in literature and the decorative arts. However, the first home of the tulip was not in Turkey but in the highlands of Central Asia, whence its bulbs were probably carried to Anatolia in the successive Turkish migrations. In distant areas of Anatolia it is recalled in the places named for it: Lâleli (place of the Tulips), near Erzerum, or Lâleli Geidi (Tulip Pass) between Sivas and Kayseri. According to a folk-legend recorded by Evliya Çelebi near Amasya, it first bloomed from the blood of the hero Farhad, who on learning of the death of his beloved Shirin smote himself with his axe. It has also been said that it had a mystical appeal to the Turks, from its name, 'lâle', being an anagram of the Arabic letters for Allah. The Mevlana poet Celâleddin Rûmi (1207-1273) wrote of it, and a tulip motif has been found in the ceiling decoration of the Selcuk palace of Alaeddin in Konya.
It is not known from which wild species the Istanbul tulip was obtained, but there is documentary evidence that throughout the 16th and 17th centuries wild flower bulbs were brought back to Istanbul from distant parts of the Empire, particularly the Crimea, for the gardens of the palace of Topkapi. In 1678 Hoca Hasan Efendi brought seven varieties of tulip cultivars from Persia on his return from Murad IV's Baghdad campaign. The first tulip to be depicted in Ottoman tilework is on an Iznik tile in the tomb of Sehzade Mehmed (1522-1543), the son of Suleiman I ('the Magnificent'), in whose reign the Istanbul tulip was first cultivated. Stylised Istanbul tulips bloom gloriously on the Iznik-tiled walls of the 16th-century Rstem Pasha mosque, and giant tulips bedeck the panels framing the mihrab of the mosque of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha. It was also Suleiman's chief artist, Kara Mehmed Çelebi, who began to transform Ottoman illumination by his use of parterres of naturalistic flowers, the most frequent being tulips, hyacinths, roses and carnations. Tulips were intertwined with other flowers on Iznik plates and bowls, and skilfully woven into the designs of silk brocades. One of the finest examples of the latter, Sultan Murad III's magnificient tulip-patterned kaftan, is preserved in the museum of Topkapi Palace.
Meanwhile Ottoman dignitaries competed increasingly for the production of the most remarkable varieties of the Istanbul tulip. The cultivation of ever more rarified specimens was pursued with passionate intensity, the final products the results of years of cross-breeding and dedicated care. A commission was set up by Mehmed IV (1648-1687) to examine and register the new varieties, listing also their owners. Tulip-names were usually Arabic or Persian and poetic such as 'Glrengi-feyz' - 'Rose-coloured Bounty' or 'Revnak-bahs' - 'The Giver of Brilliance', but some, such as the 'Cce Moru' and 'Ibrahim Bey Ali' (found in the De Belder album) were Turkish. In 1726 a list of 239 varieties was published with prices, to curb inflation. The most expensive, the 'Nize-i Rummâni' (ff. 4,5 and 6 in the album) was priced at 50 piastres, equivalent to 7½ gold Turkish lira. If the 'Nize-i Rummâni' is the most expensive the graceful 'Mu'attar' or perfumed tulip is the most unusual in the album, for tulips are famously unscented, and certainly no scented tulip is known in Western Europe.
The reign of Ahmet III (1703-1730), so closely associated with the tulip, was characterised by a passion for pleasure and beauty. In 1720 Ahmet's envoy to the French court, Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi Efendi, returned with reports of Paris and the entertainments of Versailles. From the plans of French palaces, fragile pavilions were built at Kagithane (the Sweet Waters of Europe) at the head of the Golden Horn and named Sa'dabad (the Palace of Happiness). They provoked in imitation a wave of palaces, pavilions and fountains on the shores of the Bosphorus, and in the gardens of these new pleasure domes tulips were cultivated with passionate enthusiasm and skill, the secrets of rare strains jealously guarded. The coming of spring and the occasions for celebration in the Court calendar were marked with tulip festivals, music and illuminations.
The Sultan was guided in his pursuit of enjoyment by Nevsehirli Damad Ibrahim Pasha, from 1718 his Grand Vizir, a man of refined tastes and liberal views. A master of intrigue, he was also unstinting in his expenditure on lavish entertainments for the diversion of his royal master. The most dazzling of the Tulip festivals was given by Ibrahim Pasha for Ahmet III in his summer palace at Besiktas, and was attended by the Sultan, four of his sons, the Valide Sultan (his mother) and other women of the royal household. In the gardens of the palace of Topkapi Ahmet III planted a tulip garden below the Baghdad Kiosque, and there at full moon in April the Festival of Tulips was celebrated, and became one of the most important events of the Court calendar. Vases of tulips interspersed with glass lanterns sat upon rows of shelves, with glass globes of coloured liquids to add brilliance, and singing birds in cages suspended from the trees, while turtles with candles on their backs wandered among the flowers. At Sa'dabad and Kandilli, and at Ibrahim Pasha's palace at Çiragan, the Sultan was entertained by the great Divan poet Ahmet Nedim (1681-1730), whose brilliant verses described the glittering festivities, celebrating the tulip, the jasmine and the nightingale. He wrote of the rivers of paradise where 'the rose and the Tulip make merry in fere', and praised the Sultan in the apostrophe 'And thou O heart-expanding Tulip ne'er far from the garden be' (translated in E.J.W. Gibb. History of Ottoman Poetry, 1905, IV, 54).
Ahmet III's reign and with it the Tulip period ended violently, in the revolt of the Janissaries led by the Albanian Patrona Halil, protesting against the decision of the Grand Vizir to cut back their wages. Damad Ibrahim Pasha and the poet Nedim died at the hands of the rebels, in a wave of destructive fury against the expenditure and luxurious entertainments of the Court. Sultan Ahmet was deposed in favour of his son, Mahmud I, and died in 1736. Over the next seventy years the Istanbul tulip disappeared, probably, Turhan Baytop suggests, because its production had always been limited to a small number of wealthy individuals in Istanbul. The full reasons are not yet established, but it is certain that it is now extinct.
Ekrem Hakki Ayverdi (1899-1984), the architectural historian who owned the De Belder album in 1950, and wrote about it, dated the drawings in it circa 1725, from his examination of ten treatises on tulips in the Ali Emiri Efendi library (now in the Millet Ktphanesi in Istanbul). From references to Seyh Osman Efendi in a treatise written in 1688-1690, he concluded that the two varieties of tulip in the album associated by their names with this Seyh (the 'Turuncu Seyh' and 'Turuncu Ussakizade Efendi') had not been produced by 1688 and the album must therefore be later. Secondly, he observed that the Defter-i Lâlezâr-i Istanbul, the register which gives 1108 names of tulips grown between 1681-1726, includes 31 of the 37 named in the album, one, the 'Bezm-Efza' appearing first in 1725/26. In addition, 24 of the varieties in the album are listed, with their prices, in the Narkh Defteri, the register of the Kadi (the Canon Law judge) of Istanbul for 1726. Since by 1750 the name of only one of the 37 varieties is found in the Risâle-i esami-i Lâle, a treatise on tulip names, it may be concluded that the album dates from circa 1725, when 'tulipomania' in Istanbul was at its height.
Of the 37 named varieties in the album one ('Nize-i Rummâni') is repeated three times (ff. 4,5 and 6), and three are shown twice ('Hseyni', ff. 14v and 22; 'Nize-i Glgn', ff. 26v and 30v; 'Ferah-engiz', ff. 31 and 32). With one exception (the 'Cce Moru'), no information is given on the origins, characteristics and producers of the tulips. The 'Nize-i Rummâni' tulip on f. 5 is depicted in a deep blue vase, of the same form as the tulip vases still made in the mid-19th century at the glassworks at Beykoz, known as the 'Çesm-i Blbl' (Nightingale's Eye).
The artist, signing himself on three drawings 'Mehmed' and in two with the initial letter 'Mim' (which also appears on f. 1r) is not known in other manuscripts but the appellation he uses on f. 2v, 'Bendegân' (one of the servants of a ruler) suggests that he was in the service of a vizir, or even of the Sultan himself.
f. 1. Inscribed in red ink, 'Risâle' (A Treatise on Tulips) and signed with the initial letter 'Mim' in upper left corner.
f. 1v. A bouquet of an orange tulip, a pink rose, an orange marigold, and a mauve flower, tied with red thread, signed 'Mehmed', in red ink beneath the rose.
f. 2. A pink tulip, (uncaptioned), signed 'Rekame kemterin Mehmed' (Drawn by Mehmed, the least of men).
f. 2v. An orange tulip, (uncaptioned), signed 'Rekame bendegân Mehmed' (Drawn by Mehmed, one of the servants of a ruler).
f. 3. An orange tulip, (uncaptioned).
f. 4. 'Nize-i Rummâni' (The pomegranate-coloured lance), red.
f. 5. 'Nize-i Rummâni' (The pomegranate-coloured lance), red, depicted in a blue vase.
f. 6. 'Nize-i Rummâni' (The pomegranate-coloured lance), red.
f. 7. Muhayyiru'1-Ukûl' (That makes the mind spin), red and cream.
f. 8. 'Gl-riz' (The scatterer of roses), red and cream.
f. 9. 'Sahib-Kiran' (The lord of the Fortunate Conjunction i.e. 'royal' or 'imperial'), deep red or cream.
f. 10. 'Pene' (The five fingers), red and cream.
f. 11. 'Glrengi fevz' (Rose-coloured bounty).
f. 12. 'Zevk-bahs' (The giver of delight), deep red and cream.
f. 13. 'Bahapira-i Ismail' ('The valuable adornment of Ismail'), red and cream.
f. 14. 'Revnak-bahs' (The giver of brilliance), yellow and red.
f. 14v. 'Hseyni' (Hseyin's [tulip]), dark red, signed with the initial letter 'Mim', in black ink.
f. 15. 'Ferah-Efzâ' (The augmenter of joy), red and cream.
f. 16. 'Subh-u Bahaz' (Spring morning), cream.
f. 17. 'Mir'ât' (The mirror), red and cream.
f. 18. 'Isve-baz' (The coquette), pink and red.
f. 19. 'Âli-kadir' (Of exalted virtue), red and yellow).
f. 20. 'Turuncu Seyhi' (The Sheikh's orange-coloured [tulip]), deep yellow.
f. 21. 'Hâlet-efza' (The augmenter of mystical ecstasy), pink and cream.
f. 22. 'Nûr-i Cenan' (The light of the beloved), red.
f. 22v. 'Hseyni' (Hseyin's [tulip]), dark red.
f. 23. 'Zisan' (The honourable one), red.
f. 23v. 'Sevk-bahs' (The giver of joy), yellow and red, signed with the initial letter 'Mim' in black ink.
f. 24. 'Âli-san' (Supreme), yellow and red.
f. 24v. 'Ccemoru' (The dwarf's purple), purple and white, including an inscription saying that it was first seen in Üskdar, in the garden of the dwarf Dizdar Cce Çelebi. Some years later it came up plain rather than 'flamed with pure white'.
f. 25. 'Mor-Yusufi' (Joseph's purple), dark red.
f. 25v. 'Turuncu Ussakizade efendi' (Usakizade Efendi's orange-coloured), orange and red.
f. 26. 'Frûzende' (The illuminator), yellow.
f. 26v. 'Nize-i Glgûn' (The rose-coloured lance), red and cream.
f. 27. 'Nize-i Sinân' (The spearhead), red and cream.
f. 27v. 'Nize-i Gl-Gûn Yekrenk' (The single-coloured rose lance), mauve.
f. 28. 'Ibrahim Bey Âli' (Ibrahim Bey's crimson), red and yellow.
f. 28v. 'Dil-sûz' (The breaker of hearts), pink and cream.
f. 29. 'Naz-dâr' (Coquettish), pink and cream.
f. 29v. 'Sevk-bahs' (The giver of joy), pink and orange.
f. 30. 'Nazende-Âl' (Disdainful crimson), red and cream.
f. 30v. 'Nize-i Gl-gûn' (Rose-coloured lance), red and cream.
f. 31. 'Ferah-engiz' (Bringer of joy), red and cream, and (on the left) 'Bezm-i efza-i Ahmed Efendi' ('Ahmed Efendi's augmenter of the feasting'), red and cream.
f. 32. 'Ferah-engiz' (Bringer of joy), pink and red.
f. 33. 'Nahl-Erguvan' (Flower of the Judas tree), purple, red and white.
f. 34. 'Gl-ruhsâr' (Rosy-cheeked), pink and cream.
f. 35. 'Mustapha Hocanin ser-amed nisindir' (Mustapha Hoca's guest of honour), a yellow narcissus and a red cylcamen.
f. 35v. A red tulip (unfinished).
f.36. 'Frugh-i asafi' (The vizir's flame), yellow.
f. 37. 'Mu'attar' (Scented), deep red and purple.
f. 37v. Notes (unrelated to tulips), giving a recipe for making a paste, ('macun olup aksam ve sabah cöznr...', giving the ingredients (honey, ginger, gum and orrisroot) with prices in dirrhem, each phrase repeated two or three times.
Ekrem Hakki Ayverdi. The Tulip in the Eighteenth Century (Istanbul, 1950).
Turhan Baytop and Brian Mathew. Bulbous Plants of Turkey (London, 1984).
Turhan Baytop. Istanbul Lâlesi (Turk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, Ankara, 1991).
Evliya Çelebi. Narrative of Travels (London, 1834-1850).
Antoine Galland. Journal (Paris, 1881).
E.J.W. Gibb. History of Ottoman Poetry, IV (London, 1905).
Fatma Mge Göek. East Encounters West. France and the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century (Oxford, 1987).
Joseph von Purgstall-Hammer. Histoire de l'Empire Ottoman (Paris, 1835-1843).
Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby. Iznik. The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey (London, 1989).
Glr Necipoglu. Architecture, Ceremonial and Power. The Topkapi Palace in the 15th and 16th centuries (New York, 1981).
A copy of the article by Ekrem Hakki Ayverdi is included with the album.