Imperial crown

These photos were found on a since then extinct Persian blog. The gorgeous lily is Fritillaria imperialis, in European languages “Imperial crown” (in modern English also “fritillary”), in Persian لاله واژگون lâle-ye vazhgun, that is “inverted lily/tulip” as Persian lâle means both flowers. It grows naturally in the Zagros mountain of Western Iran.

It is a magnificent view when the carpet of flaming red bells sitting on the top of a meter high stem cover the barren hillsides within a couple of days, giving a totally new dimension to the biblical saying: “Consider the lilies of the fields how they grow… not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.” This saying, unexpectedly, also justifies the European name of the flower.

This flower, suitably to its name, came to the European ornamental gardens through the mediation of two real emperors and two uncrowned kings of Renaissance botany. One of the emperors was Great Suleiman, il Magnifico, as Italian historians and al-Qanuni, the Legislator, as Turkish and Persian chroniclers called him. He complemented and stabilized the conquests of his father and grandfather, and his long reign was the golden age of Ottoman culture. Persian literature and art, including garden art, played a great role in this revival. Bread feeds the body, but flowers feed the soul, goes the saying attributed to Mohamed, and in this spirit Suleyman established in Istanbul the Flower Market which still functions on its original site, in the Eminönü neighborhood, next to the Spice Bazaar, not far from those wonderful fish friers. This market offered for the first time all the flowers of the empire from the Plain of Kosovo to the Armenian highlands and from the shores of Pontus to the deserts of Syria. A dream of all botanists.

Sultan Suleiman after the Battle of Mohács, Hungary (1526) which opened him the way to Europe (Istanbul, Topkapı Sarayı)

And the dream found its botanist. The Flemish Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, special envoy of Emperor Ferdinand I had negotiations in Istanbul on the Transylvanian border question both in 1554 and 1556. The delicate negotiations dragged on so that Busbecq had enough time not only to compose his Turkish letters that for the first time described life in Istanbul, but also to collect plants unknown in Europe on the Flower Market. He was the first to send home a number of plants which we already consider as ancient natives of Europe: tulip, horse chestnut, lilac, Syrian rose, mock orange, and of course imperial crown, thus opening the “Oriental period” of European ornamental gardens which lasted until the 1620s.

The Great Mosque of Istanbul, 1570

The addressee of Busbecq’s parcels was another Flemish botanist, the greatest of his age, Carolus Clusius, invited to Vienna in 1573 by the other emperor, Maximilian II precisely on the proposal of Busbecq. Clusius created the first exotic garden of Europe in the imperial court which also gave name to the Imperial crown. Clusius was a great collector of plants himself, the first one to describe the alpine flora of Austria and Western Hungary. He was a friend of Count Boldizsár Batthyány, a mysterious figure of Hungarian Renaissance, who also had exotic flowers, including a “thirty-six-petalled double daffodil” sent from Istanbul through his high-ranking Turkish captives, and whose ornamental garden in the castle of Németújvár (today Güssing) was planned and later often referred to by Clusius himself. The first, lavishly illustrated large manuscript encyclopedia of the mushrooms of Pannonia, published in print only in the 1990s, was compiled by Clusius on Count Batthyány’s estates.

Pieter van Kouwernhoorn: Imperial crown, detail of a florilegium, ca. 1620

But the specialty of Clusius was the exotic flora coming from Istanbul, primarily tulips, naturalized by him in Europe. Returning to Leiden, he founded the Hortus Academicus, the first European nursery of ornamental plants where he sold the bulbs of his collection for outrageous prices. Embittered local gardeners finally broke into his garden, sampling all his specimens in a professional way. This is how the fashion of tulips began in the Netherlands, leading to the infamous tulip frenzy and the famous tulip still lifes of the next generation. These still lifes are often crowned, indeed, by the Imperial crown, whose impressive dimensions made it a much liked decorative flower of large Baroque spaces. Its Baroque appearance also made it popular in late 19th-century painting.

Id. Jan Brueghel: Great bouquet, 1603

Van Gogh: Imperial crowns in a brass vase, 1886

This flower is also called in Persian لاله اشک lâle-ye ashk, weeping lily. Tradition has it that it was witness to the killing of pre-Islamic Iranian hero Siavush, and it has wept for him ever since with its head turned down. But in the much more popular version of the legend the flower sprouted from the blood of Siavush which had been poured on the barren rocks by command of the tyrant. This is how it is recounted by Ferdowsi in The Book of Kings.

Siavush, the murdered innocent hero – whose figure preserved the traits of the killed Tammuz and prepared the way to the cult of the greatest Shia martyr Husein – is one of the most important Iranian symbols of freedom suppressed but reborn from the blood of the martyrs. The mujaheds rebelling against the Shah sang about Siavush’s blood, and Siavush’s name figures in the title of a key novel of modern Iran, Simin Daneshvar’s Savushun whose plot takes place during the British occupation of 1941, but it has been read with unaltered actuality ever since. The main figure of the novel, Yusof, the young head of an important landowner family in Shiraz is caused to be killed by the British, because he as the organizer of the city’s passive resistance prevents their army from buying up food in the region which would cause famine among peasants. The last phrase of the novel is the message sent to Zari, Yusof’s widow by Yusof’s friend, an Irish poet serving in the British army as an interpreter:

Don’t cry, my sister. In your home a tree will grow, and other trees in your city, and many more ones in the whole country. And the wind will bring messages from tree to tree, and the trees will ask of the wind: “Have you met the dawn on your way?”

And this same lily, the symbol of freedom sprouting from the blood of the martyrs is also sung on the album Lâle-ye bahâr, Spring Lily, recently published in Iran by one of the greatest Iranian singers, Shahram Nazeri.

Shahram Nazeri: Lâle-ye bahâr (Spring Lily), from the album Lâle-ye bahâr (2009). The poem is by the same Malek o-Sho‘arâ Bahâr who is also the author of Dawn bird performed by Shajarian. The music was written and played by the greatest santoor player Parviz Meshkatian who died just a month ago, on September 21 in Tehran.

لاله خونین کفن از خاک سر آورده برون
خاک مستوره قلب بشر آورده برون
دل ماتم زده مادر زاری است که مرگ
از زمین همره داغ پسر آورده برون

.....lâle khunin kafan az khâk sar âvarde borun
khâk masture-ye ghalb-e bashar âvarde borun
del-e mâtamzade-ye mâdar-e zâri’st ke merg
az zamin hamreh-e dagh-e pesar âvarde borun
آتشین آه فرو مرده مدفون شده است
که زمین از دل خود شعله ور آورده برون
راست گویی که زبانهای وطن خواهان است
که جفای فلک از پشت سر آورده برون

âtashin âh-e foru morde-ye madfun shode ast
ke zamin az del-e khod sho‘le var âvarde borun
r’ast guyi ke zabânhâ-ye vatan khâhân ast
ke jafâ-ye falak az posht-e sar âvarde borun
یا به تقلید شهیدان ره آزادی
طوطی سبز قبا سرخ پر آورده برون
یا که بر لوح وطن خامه خونبار بهار
نقشی از خون دل رنج بر آورده برون

yâ be taghlid-e shahidân-e rah-e âzâdi
tuti-ye sabz ghabâ sorgh par âvarde borun
yâ ke bar loh-e vatan khâme-ye khunbâr-e bahâr
naghshi az khun-e del-e ranj bar âvarde borun

the lily brings forth a blood-colored shroud from the earth
the earth uncovers the hidden soul of mankind
the mother’s mournful heart is weeping for the dead
son whose burning heart sprouts from the earth

the buried dead became fire, the blood
of his heart sets ablaze the earth
as if a thousand tongues of the country
announced that the tyranny of fate will be over

as if, similarly to the martyrs of freedom,
he wore a red feather on his parrot-green mantle
as if the burning spring covered the country’s tombstone
with the silk of the blood of tortured hearts

15 comentarios:

Πόλυ Χατζημανωλάκη dijo...

Excellent!! Brilliant!

Your text and photos are tracing back the journey of this flower from Iran, Istanbul and the West (the Netherlands)!.
If I remember correctly, a story – with the market of flowers in Istanbul – is recounted in Mark Twain’s Black Tulip (and a competition of flowers in The Hague!)

The paintings of Brueghel and Van Gogh are silent witnesses of this cultural exchange! I never thought of such a kind of connection between a symbol of freedom and a Van Gogh painting!

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, Poly! Your appreciation, coming from a person of high standards, is of particularly great value to me.

Yes, I’m especially fond of these hidden paths that have linked East and West across all cultural borders throughout history. I’m convinced that you, living in a similar intercultural situation, share this awe of mine.

It is completely sure that Brueghel and Van Gogh did not know about the Iranian meaning of freedom of this flower, just as most Iranians have never known to what a high social status their stubborn freedom fighter of humble montanaro origins had come in the West. But what a great gain in perspective it is for us to look both at these paintings and those wild lily fields with both meanings in our mind!

As to the reference to Mark Twain, are you sure in the title? On a first search I have found nothing similar among his works. The competition of flowers in The Hague does play an important role in Dumas’ Black Tulip, but neither this does mention of the flower market of Istanbul, in whose beginnings I am particularly interested because of its impact on European herbalism. There must be some literature on it also in Greek, as it was run, at least in the first century of its existence, mostly by Greek and Armenian merchants and producers.

Πόλυ Χατζημανωλάκη dijo...

Oops!!! What a terrible mistake!!!

Of course it is Dumas!
Shame on me!!!

Nevertheless, I had a vague impression, that de Busbecq was mentioned in the “Black Tulip”.
Perhaps, this is due to the “side” research I have done some time ago, about the process of hybridization/transformation that would turn a blue tulip into black as was the dream of Cornelius van Baerle recounted in the book. (Although Cornelius tried to change the nature of the seeds!) The name of the Flemish botanist – and the Turkish market must had come up in this process and time must have blurred my memory and made me think this was mentioned in the book.

I am still interested in this subject of “blackness” (negritude) that preoccupied Dumas, whose grandmother was of French/African origin.

Many thanks for your so kind tolerance.

Studiolum dijo...

Well, lapsus memoriae is the luxury of those who have enough reserves left in their memory :) I myself read the Black Tulip some twenty or thirty years ago, so if the name of Busbecq popped up in it, I surely did not pay attention at that age.

Alaleh dijo...

depending on the kind of lily (spring lily, water lily, tiger lily ...) it has different names in persian. in general lily is "soussan" in farsi (not the same as suzanne)
laleh is only a tulip and means 'open' - it comes from sanscrit. laleh ye vajgun is that which opens inverted.

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you for the addition and for the etymology! Yes, in fact my equivalence “lâleh = tulip/lily” has been an attempt to bridge the taxonomic break that exists between Persian and English/other European languages. Imperial crown, called a “tulip” in Persian, is definitely considered a “lily” in Europe, both by its aspect and its botanical place (Liliaceae family).

Best wishes and see you again soon!

heirloomgardener dijo...

I grow this in my garden in the United States, but have never seen such a large display in a natural setting--amazing!

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks for the visit, Julia! Yes, it is a breathtaking view to see this gigantic living red carpet covering all over the mountains for hundreds of kilometers. (A similar display is the blooming of wild tulips in the same Zagros mountains, somewhat earlier in the spring.)

Kata has also tried to grow them in our garden, but it seems that the local microclimate is too wet for this native of dry hillsides, and they have always failed to come out in the next spring.

Studiolum dijo...

Besides heirloomgardener/Julia, also Botany Photo of the Day has included a link to this post. Thank you!

Studiolum dijo...

…и ФОРУМ WEBСАД тоже. Большое спасибо!

Studiolum dijo...

…and also one of the best web catalog of plants Dave’s Garden as well as the forum of GardenWeb. Thanks a lot!

Anónimo dijo...

Hi. Nice blog!

Can I just add that the Crown Imperial is the National Flower of Kurdistan where the flowers are indigenous to. It is called Gul Shler in Kurdish.
Indeed, the photos in your blog were taken in Kurdistan of Iran.

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks a lot! So it is a flower that links together people from Persia through Kurdistan and Turkey to Hungary and beyond. What does its Kurdish name mean?

MOCKBA dijo...

As the name Fritillaria suggests, in the European eyes it was for gambling - in your face, bold, bright, devoid of reason. The whole genus is like that, except perhaps for one modest spring flower of our local mountains, the little shy Fritillaria pudica

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, in fact. They probably saw little gambling cups in the flowers (and from this aspect the Pudica is no exception either). However, the name seems to be quite late (perhaps coined by Linné himself for the whole genus), as its Latin name is Corona Imperialis in the sources until as late as the end of the 18th century.