Tulips, in Art as well


It is only natural that the tulip has thoroughly permeated the work of artists. We come across this phenomenon as early as the seventeenth century in such paintings as those by Judith Leyster. She was a student of Frans Hals, and was almost as famous as that resident of Haarlem. Magnificent tulip books were also produced, full of brilliant illustrations of lovely tulips. Nowadays, these books are rare and extremely valuable.

Dating from this same century are the first tulip vases, special vases intended for the precious tulips. In those days, of course, people did not just buy a bunch of tulips simply to put them in a vase: the flowers were far too expensive and unique for that. You had to show them off! People who could afford these pretty flowers usually also had the financial means to have vases made for them especially. The result was often an exceptionally lovely example of applied art. Each individual tulip had its own separate little tube in order to emphasis the beauty of every single flower. In most cases the patterns on these tulip vases were of the typically Dutch, delft blue variety.

Master pieces

By the end of the sixteenth century Turkey became an important trade partner for the Low Countries. Amsterdam and Antwerp ousted the merchants of Genua and Venice, which until that time had the monopoly of the trade with the Near East. The Turkish culture made a deep impression on the Dutch merchants. It was the period when Holland was involved in a religious war with Spain. The favorite slogan for the Geuzen was: “Liever Turks dan Paaps (Rather Turkish than Catholic)”. The tulip trade was booming. From the 1620s artists were inspired by this and other bulbs. Herman Henstenburg, Jacob Marrell, Ambrosius Bosschaert and many others made opulent still-lifes and portraits of this nearly holy flower. Tulips, like ‘Zilverschoon’ and ‘Lac van Rijn’ were frequently depicted; often together with other spring bulbs mixed with summer flowers.

The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum and the Rijksprentenkabinet can boast many unique master pieces, both paintings and drawings, in their collections. Like other Dutch historical museums such as Teylers Museum and Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. Apart from these floral representations, bulbs were also a rewarding source of inspiration for tile makers and ceramists. Tiles, even complete panels, and other ceramic ‘objects d’art’ were decorated with floral motifs. On tile panels in the elegant canal houses in the cities of Amsterdam, Alkmaar, Hoorn and Enkhuizen more and more tulips were depicted. Ceramic tulip vases, for instance, were extremely popular. One unique piece belongs to the collection of Paleis Het Loo.