Tulip symbolism in jewellery

21 January 2023

Happy National Tulip Day! In the Netherlands, the third Saturday of January marks the start of our tulip season. In this blog I’ll tell you more about the name of this flower, wild species and the symbolism of tulips in jewellery.

From turban to tulip

Did you know that tulips were originally cultivated in Turkey? The flower originates from the mountains of Kazakhstan. As a by-product of the conquests of Turkish sultan Süleyman I, the tulip made its way to Turkey in the sixteenth century, then to Antwerp, eventually arriving in the Netherlands. Back then, the flower was first named ‘laleh’ (Flower of Allah). Story goes the flower is called tulip due to a misunderstanding in the sixteenth century. An international ambassador visited the Ottoman Empire, admired the flower fields and was told the flowers were called ‘tuliband’. Why? The interpreter thought the ambassador wanted to know what their headdress was called. Oops. ‘Tuliband’ became ‘Tulipa’ in the letter the ambassador wrote (because, Latin). There you go.

Wild tulips: a work of art

In 2016, I worked on art exhibition ‘Snapshot of a larger order’ in Schiedam (NL). That’s where my love for the flower really blossomed. In the so-called Noletloodsen, a 6.000 m2 big warehouse owned by Nolet Distillery, twenty artists made new work fit for the location. One of them was Birthe Leemeijer with art inspired by the wild tulip. In the Noletloodsen, she projected around 10.000 photos she personally digitalized, a legacy of the well-known ‘tulip hunter’ Wim Lemmers. For twenty years, this bulb expert scoured near impassable areas of primal nature, where the flower originates from and where the bulb blossoms under difficult circumstances. Lemmers’ travels took him to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. During one of these trips, he discovered a yet unknown tulip species, which received his name: the Tulipa lemmersii. Click here to read more (in Dutch) about Birthe’s project.

Jewellery symbolism
What about the symbolism of tulips in jewellery? In sentimental Victorian jewellery, I come across this flower every now and then. Because of the association with hope of love it was (and is) perfect for lovers to express their feelings. In 1867, ‘The illustrated language of flowers’ by Mrs. L. Burke was published. She mentioned the following meanings in her book. Red tulips: declaration of love. Yellow tulips: hopeless love. And so on. Jewellery historian Hayden Peters has posted a very interesting blog about the symbolism of tulips on his Art of Mourning website. I suggest you read his blog too!

Photo credits: Moniek Kuipers (main photo), Birthe Leemeijer and Wim Lemmers (photo gallery) and Hayden Peters – Art of Mourning (photo of jewellery)