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Tulip

Tulip decoration on a Kangxi period (1662-1722) Tea pot decorated in Chinese Imari decoration in Red, Gilt and undergtlaze bue and white, Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson 2006As a motif common on porcelain exported to the Dutch and possibly inspired by Iznik wares. The European fashion for tulips originally came from the Turks who were growing them as early as 1000 AD.

The flower was introduced to Europe in the 17th century by Carolus Clusius who in the 1590's became the director of the Hortus Botanicus botanical garden in Leiden where he was hired to research medicinal plants. While doing so, he received some bulbs from his friend, Ogier de Busbecq, the Ambassador to Constantinople (presently Istanbul) who had seen the beautiful flower called the tulip, after the Turkish word for turban, growing in the palace gardens, and sent a few to Clusius who planted them and thus founded the amazing bulb fields we see today.

In the beginning of the 17th century, the tulip was starting to be used as a garden decoration and gained major popularity especially in Holland. The interest in the flower was huge and bulbs came to be sold for unbelievably high prices. Hybrids and mutations of the flower actually caused by a flower virus spread by a bug, were seen as rarities and a sign of high status. In the months of late 1636 to early 1637, there was a complete "Tulip mania" in the Netherlands. Some varieties could cost more than a house at that time.

The traders made huge amounts of money every month and people started selling their businesses, family homes, farm animals, furnishing and dowries to participate. The government could not do anything to stop the "Tulip mania". Finally over-supply led to lower prices and dealers went bankrupt and many people lost their savings because of the trade. By the mid 17th century the tulip was also introduced as a decoration on porcelain ordered from China, where especially the frilly and mutated versions could still be recognized as on this tea pot from the Kangxi period (1662-1722).

Not only before modern times has hybrid flowers that look similar but are genetically stable been possible to grow.

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