İznik Mavi Çini Iznik Tiles and the Artistic Reflections of the Tulip Pattern in the Ottoman Empire - İznik Mavi Çini
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Iznik Tiles and the Artistic Reflections of the Tulip Pattern in the Ottoman Empire

Iznik Tiles and the Artistic Reflections of the Tulip Pattern in the Ottoman Empire

3 August 2023

The tulip, a graceful symbol of Ottoman art, is a flower integrated with Istanbul and Ottoman culture. In this article, we will examine in detail how the tulip motif has a place in Ottoman art, how it has evolved over time, and the artistic reflections of this graceful flower.

Mythological Origin of the Tulip and its Rise in the Ottoman Empire

According to a story told in Persian mythology, a green leaf struck by lightning turned into a red flower. The black mark in the middle of the tulip is believed to be the trace of this lightning burn. The tulip bulbs, assumed to originate from the God Mountains and Pamir Mountains in Central Asia, accompanied the Turks migrating to Anatolia. They were depicted on the tiles decorating the walls of the 13th-century Anatolian Seljuk palaces and mentioned in Rumi's Masnavi for their color and beauty. Its red color has been emphasized in poems for centuries; its black mark has sometimes been a heart wound, sometimes a mole on the lover's cheek. References to tulip gardens in poems written by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror under the pseudonym Avni show that this flower was a part of life in the 15th century.

Tulip Cultivation and Garden Culture: The Tulip Era in the Ottoman Empire

The tulip, which entered garden culture from its natural environment in the 16th century, has been cultivated in many different colors, patterns, and forms using hybridization. Tulip cultivation in the Ottoman Empire increased among the state's leading figures in Istanbul in the 16th and 17th centuries, and books describing how it was cultivated and its features were written. It is believed that the tulip was taken to Europe during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent by Busbecq, the ambassador of the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor Ferdinand I. He recorded the tulip as "tulipan" in his letters, which is how it entered Western languages.

Tulip Motif and Ottoman Art: Iznik Tile Tulip Pattern

Kara Memi, who was the chief painter at the palace between 1540-1566, adorned the book where the sultan's poems were collected with flowers, including tulips. He semi-stylized colorful tulips from red to navy, yellow to orange, showing only three of their petals. The tulip, depicted in this new style that influenced all artists in a short time, gains a special value among the flower motifs in Ottoman art. Tulips began to adorn not only gardens but also tiles in mosques and mausoleums, fabrics, and embroideries. As the variety of tulips in gardens increased, the drawn motifs and designed compositions became more magnificent, as seen in the tiles of the Rüstem Pasha Mosque. For example, this tulip pattern was first used in the Rüstem Pasha Mosque. The patterns prepared in the palace painter's workshop on Iznik tiles, with flowers blooming in fire, are the most striking works of the classical period of Ottoman art in coral red, emerald green, cobalt blue, and turquoise colors.

Use of the Tulip Motif in Different Areas: Tulip in Ottoman Architecture and Literature

The tulip has been immortalized on the walls of mosques and mausoleums in tiles, pen decorations, fabrics and embroideries, carpets, ceramics, and book pages. In the 16th century Bursa brocades and Istanbul brocades, tulip motifs were processed with great mastery and taste. The place of the tulip motif in literature is conveyed in the 16th-century gazelle of Baki with a tulip refrain and the poems of Nedim in the 18th century, which equates spring with tulips. The words Allah and tulip, when written in the Arabic alphabet, use the same letters (alef, lam, he), so both have a numerical value of 66 according to abjad calculation. Since the word tulip read backward produces the word crescent, poets have indicated the crescent with the phrase 'reflection of the tulip'. These meanings carried by the tulip have placed it in a special position in Ottoman social life, cultural, and artistic fields. The single flower that blooms at the end of the stem rising from a bulb is seen as a reflection of God's unity.

The Place of the Tulip Motif in Ottoman Art in the 18th Century and its Reflections in Iznik Tile

In the 18th century; in the Yemiş Room of Sultan Ahmed III in Topkapı Palace, the tulips drawn from floor to ceiling, in the vases of the square fountains, in the hands of the figures in Levni's miniatures, and on the gravestones, the full appearance of the tulips has disappeared, and new types of tulips called 'swallow tulips', whose petals have thinned and sharpened, have become popular. A bouquet or vase in Ottoman art has not been drawn without this symbol flower. You can access our Iznik tile panel study, which we prepared based on the tulip drawings in Sultan Ahmed III's room, from here.

The Place of the Tulip Motif in Ottoman Art: An Invitation to Discovery

The tulip, as a graceful symbol of Ottoman art, has gained different forms and meanings throughout history, leaving a cultural and aesthetic heritage. The artistic reflections of this unique flower are a reflection of the rich culture and aesthetic understanding of the Ottomans. So, how about exploring more about this unique place and beauty of the tulip motif in Ottoman art? Click here to see the modern reflections of the tulip motif in our Iznik tile designs and learn more about this unique art. Own this unique piece of history and art!


Motif, Turgut Saner, Şebnem Eryavuz, and Hülya Bilgi, pp.90-91.


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