Nolde to de l’Écluse to Busbecq

Or: it’s tulips, all the way down.

Posted by Bernadette Lambotte and Joelle Stepien Bailard on Facebook this morning, two intense tulip paintings by Emil Nolde:



with accompanying text “Les Tulipes d’Emil Nolde”:

La tulipe est introduite en Europe vers 1560 par Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq (Comines 1522-1592), ambassadeur d’Autriche à Constantinople auprès de Soliman le Magnifique dont la tulipe était la fleur préférée. C’est Charles de l’Écluse (Arras 1526-Leyde 1609), célèbre botaniste, conservateur du jardin botanique de Leyde qui l’acclimate dans nos régions.
L’engouement pour la tulipe va en s’amplifiant, tant et si bien que le bulbe de tulipe devient objet de spéculation. Ce phénomène prit une telle ampleur, de 1634 à 1637, qu’on parle de « tulipomanie ». Ainsi, en 1637 on offre 30.000 florins pour 3 bulbes alors que les maisons les plus chères en bordure des canaux d’Amsterdam coûtaient 10.000 florins et que le salaire annuel d’un artisan ne dépassait pas 300 florins. L’effondrement du marché provoque de nombreuses faillites, mais ne signifie pas pour autant la fin du commerce et de la culture de la tulipe. Les tulipes chamarrées (perroquet) étaient les plus recherchées et les plus coûteuses. En fait, les variations de couleurs étaient dues à un virus, phénomène encore inconnu à l’époque.
Outre la tulipe, Charles de l’Écluse introduit dans nos régions la jacinthe [hyacinth], l’amaryllis, le lilas [lilac], et la fritillaire impériale [crown imperial], qui connaîtra elle aussi un succès retentissant.

On Nolde from Wikipedia:

Emil Nolde (born Emil Hansen; 7 August 1867 – 13 April 1956) was a German-Danish painter and printmaker. He was one of the first Expressionists, a member of Die Brücke, and was one of the first oil painting and watercolor painters of the early 20th century to explore color. He is known for his brushwork and expressive choice of colors. Golden yellows and deep reds appear frequently in his work, giving a luminous quality to otherwise somber tones. His watercolors include vivid, brooding storm-scapes and brilliant florals.

Nolde’s intense preoccupation with the subject of flowers reflected his interest in the art of Vincent van Gogh.

From an immense body of flower paintings by Nolde, two that aren’t tulip-focused:

(#3) Large Poppies (Red, Red, Red), 1912

(#4) Glowing Sunflowers, 1936

On Charles de l’Écluse. From Nolde back to Carolus Clusius. From Wikipedia:

Charles de l’Écluse, L’Escluse, or Carolus Clusius (Arras, February 19, 1526 – Leiden, April 4, 1609), seigneur de Watènes, was an Artois doctor and pioneering botanist, perhaps the most influential of all 16th-century scientific horticulturists.

… In the history of gardening he is remembered not only for his scholarship but also for his work on tulips. At Leiden, his cultivation of tulips in the botanic gardens there, laid the foundations of the Dutch tulip bulb industry. In particular his observations on tulip’s “breaking” — a phenomenon discovered in the late 19th century to be due to a virus — causing the many different flamed and feathered varieties, which led to the speculative tulip mania of the 1630s. Clusius laid the foundations of Dutch tulip breeding and the bulb industry today.

(#5) Fringed tulips from the John Scheepers company (as a young man, my father bred fancy tulips — fringed, feathery, striped — as a hobby; the bulbs followed us through three houses, until we all dispersed from Pennsylvania west)

(#6) Parrot tulips from the John Scheepers company

During Clusius’ lifetime, botanical knowledge was undergoing enormous expansion, partly fueled by the expansion of the known plant world by New World exploration, and is thought of as a botanical Renaissance. Europe became engrossed with natural history from the 1530s, and gardening and cultivation of plants became a passion and prestigious pursuit from monarchs to universities. The first botanical gardens appeared as well as the first illustrated botanical encyclopaedias, together with thousands of watercolours and woodcuts. The experience of farmers, gardeners, foresters, apothecaries and physicians was being supplemented by the rise of the plant expert. Collecting became a discipline, specifically the Kunst- und Wunderkammern(cabinets of curiosities) outside of Italy and the study of naturalia became widespread through many social strata. The great botanists of the sixteenth century were all, like Clusius, originally trained as physicians, who pursued a knowledge of plants not just for medicinal properties, but in their own right. Chairs in botany, within medical faculties were being established in European universities throughout the sixteenth century in reaction to this trend, and the scientific approach of observation, documentation and experimentation was being applied to the study of plants.

Clusius’ influence was a key factor in all these developments with his pioneering and influential publications, and introduction of hitherto unknown exotic plants to the Low Countries. As adviser to princes and aristocrats and central figure of a vast European network of exchange, he successfully transmitted his knowledge widely. He is considered one of the most eminent botanists of the European Renaissance, and his influence on tulip breeding continues to the present day

On Busbecq, who I first encountered  in Holger Pedersen’s The Discovery of Language nearly 50 years ago — as a wonderfully inquisitive “Flemish traveler” who stumbled on (semi-)speakers of Crimean Gothic just before the language went completely extinct. But he’s also part of the tulip story, as well as a source of extraordinarily detailed accounts of the Ottoman Turkish court in the 16th century. In any case, not your run-of-the-mill diplomat.

From his Wikipedia entry:

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522 in Comines – 28 October 1592; Latin: Augerius Gislenius Busbequius; sometimes Augier Ghislain de Busbecq) was a 16th-century Flemish writer, herbalist and diplomat in the employ of three generations of Austrian monarchs. He served as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople and in 1581 published a book about his time there, Itinera Constantinopolitanum et Amasianum, re-published in 1595 under the title of Turcicae epistolae or “Turkish Letters”.

… In 1554 and again in 1556, [the Austrian monarch Ferdinand I] named him ambassador to the Ottoman Empire under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent. His task for much of the time he was in Constantinople was the negotiation of a border treaty between his employer (the future Holy Roman Emperor) and the Sultan over the disputed territory of Transylvania. He had no success in this mission while Rustem Pasha was the Sultan’s vizier, but ultimately reached an accord with his successor Semiz Ali Pasha.

During his stay in Constantinople, he wrote his best known work, the Turkish Letters, a compendium of personal correspondence to his friend, and fellow Hungarian diplomat, Nicholas Michault, in Flanders and some of the world’s first travel literature. These letters describe his adventures in Ottoman politics and remain one of the principal primary sources for students of the 16th-century Ottoman court. He also wrote in enormous detail about the plant and animal life he encountered in Turkey. His letters also contain the only surviving word list of Crimean Gothic, a Germanic dialect spoken at the time in some isolated regions of Crimea.

… He was an avid collector, acquiring valuable manuscripts, rare coins and curios of various kinds. Among the best known of his discoveries was a 6th-century copy of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, a compendium of medicinal herbs. … His passion for herbalism led him to send Turkish tulip bulbs to his friend Charles de l’Écluse, who acclimatized them to life in the Low Countries. Busbecq has also been credited with introducing the lilac to northern Europe (though this is debated) as well as the Angora goat.

A bit more detail on Busbecq and Crimean Gothic:

Crimean Gothic was a Gothic dialect spoken by the Crimean Goths in some isolated locations in Crimea until the late 18th century.

The existence of a Germanic dialect in Crimea is noted in a number of sources from the 9th century to the 18th century. However, only a single source provides any details of the language itself: a letter by the Flemish ambassador Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, dated 1562 and first published in 1589, gives a list of some eighty words and a song supposedly in the language.

Busbecq’s account is problematic in a number of ways. First, his informants were not unimpeachable; one was a Greek speaker who knew Crimean Gothic as a second language, and the other was a Goth who had abandoned his native language in favour of Greek. Second, Busbecq’s transcription was likely influenced by his own language, a Flemish dialect of Dutch. Finally, there are undoubted typographical errors in known extant versions of the account.

Nonetheless, much of the vocabulary cited by Busbecq is unmistakably Germanic and was recognised by him as such

Footnotes. The complex publication history of Pedersen’s book:

Holger Pedersen, 1931. Linguistic Science in the Nineteenth Century: Methods and Results, translated from the Danish by John Webster Spargo, Harvard Univ. Press. (English translation of Pedersen 1924. Reprinted in 1959 as The Discovery of Language: Linguistic Science in the Nineteenth Century, Indiana Univ. Press; paperback edition 1962.)

I had that paperback edition.

Pedersen (1867-1953) was a distinguished scholar of Irish, Albanian, Hittite, Tocharian, and Balto-Slavic. Among many other accomplishments, he formulated the “ruki law”, an important historical sound change in Indo-Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic — a phenomenon that has figured in a number of my papers, most notably in:

“In and out in phonology” (OSU Working Papers in Linguistics, 1986).

(In classical Sanskrit, ruki manifests itself as a (synchronic) shift from dental /s/ to retroflex /ṣ/ after the velar stop /k/, the liquid /r/, and the high vowels /i u/.)


One Response to “Nolde to de l’Écluse to Busbecq”

  1. [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky starts by sharing beautiful paintings and photos of tulips, and ends with a meditation on Crimean […]

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