İznik Mavi Çini Symbolic Meanings of the Cypress Tree in Turkish Culture and Its Reflection in Art - İznik Mavi Çini
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Symbolic Meanings of the Cypress Tree in Turkish Culture and Its Reflection in Art

Symbolic Meanings of the Cypress Tree in Turkish Culture and Its Reflection in Art

3 October 2023

The cypress tree holds deep symbolic meanings in various cultures. However, its significance in Turkish culture is more unique and potent compared to other cultures. In Greek mythology, it symbolizes immortality through the legend of Kyparissos; in Turkish art and culture, it embodies values such as abundance, fertility, integrity, and resilience. Shall we explore how this elegant tree is positioned in Ottoman art, its historical and cultural evaluations, and why its symbolism is so profoundly ingrained? In this article, we will delve into the cypress's place in Turkish culture, its meaning, and how it is represented in art in detail.

Greek Mythology and the Meaning of the Cypress

According to Greek mythology, Kyparissos, while hunting in the forest, accidentally killed his beloved deer and, in great sorrow, begged the gods to take his life. Apollo then transformed him into a cypress tree. The etymological origin of the word 'cypress' in foreign languages (cypress, cyprès) is based on this myth.

The Historical and Cultural Value of the Cypress in Turkish Culture

Historically, the cypress tree is distinguished by its unique, straight, and conical structure from other trees. This feature allows it to be depicted in decorative arts without much stylization and to be easily recognized. In Turkish culture, the cypress tree represents abundance and fertility and is also seen as the tree of life. Its roots emerge from underground, its trunk stands on the earth, and its leaves reach towards the sky, symbolizing birth, life, and the aspiration to reach heaven. Its leaves pollinate before falling and immediately sprout new ones, thus the tree never loses its greenness. Its evergreen nature, resilience in harsh climates, symbolizes immortality or longevity. This characteristic is one of the reasons for its use in tombstone motifs. Under the cypress trees that greenify graveyards, tombstones feature cypress motifs either alone or entwined with grape bunches and vine leaves, roses, and other flowers, or rosettes like the wheel of fortune. Their use in tombstones is interpreted as an aspiration to liken these eternal resting places to paradise gardens. Its planting in sacred areas around places of worship, palace gardens, and mansions is because it is seen as a protector and a symbol of good luck. This feature is also reflected in amuletic shirts and jewelry adorned with the phrase 'maşallah' and cypress motifs.

The natural structure of the cypress enhances its aesthetic and symbolic value, making it a popular motif in art. As a reflection of this natural structure, you can check out this special product.

The Place of the Cypress Tree in Ottoman Art

In Ottoman art, the cypress tree is often represented as a part of nature. The 1566 Muhibbi Divan by Kara Memi features miniature cypress trees decorated with various flowers. These tiny cypresses are examples of the trees later seen in Iznik tiles and ceramics. In the large Iznik tile panels dating from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, such as in the Topkapı Palace’s Crown Prince’s Quarters, cypress trees wrapped with spring-blooming fruit tree branches and grape bunches with vine leaves were used as the main axis or dominant motif. In the tile panels at the Eyüp Sultan Mausoleum, cypress trees are interpreted as part of the paradise garden. It is a motif frequently used in prayer rugs as it symbolizes eternity.

The cypress tree holds a special place in our culture and art history. While embodying values like abundance, fertility, integrity, and resilience, it also represents the aesthetic beauty of nature. Its frequent representation in Ottoman art indicates the cultural and aesthetic value of this tree. You can see the historical reflection of the cypress tree in this unique design.


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