Despite the snow fall earlier this week and this mornings minus temperatures Spring is really on its way here in Ottawa. No honestly it is! A patch of early warm weather has nudged daffodils, hyacinths and other early spring flowers out of the earth. Now mind you the near sub-zero temperatures have them hiding their heads but I’m always surprised how hardy so many of those seemly delicate flowers really are.
A few weeks ago to mark International Woman’s Day I sent out mimosas to the special women in my life in the form of a wonderful lithograph by J. J. Grandville from Les Fleurs Animées (Flowers Personified) a two volume set of 54 hand-coloured lithographs which propose that “Flowers are the expression of society.”
The introduction to Les Fleurs Animées was written by Alphonse Karr and the allegorical texts by Taxile Delord. Grandville’s designs accompany their stories of the various flowers who have at their own request been given human form by the Flower Fairy. They are warned by her: “Go, deluded flowers; — let it be as you propose. Ascend upon the earth, and try human life. Ere long you will come back to me.” And in each story a flower learns the burden of living up to the attributes given their floral form by the Victorian world. Though they are lovely in themselves Grandville’s flower ladies were also a subtle bit of social satire and given that it is Grandville criticism.
However my purpose is not to engage in either social satire or criticism but to build a small garden – as I have none of my own other than a patch of balcony – on my blog. So every Friday – and maybe if nothing much happens in my world on other days as well – I’ll post one of Grandville’s lovely ladies with a short word about its origins and what it meant when Grandville published his book.
The early spat of warm means that the tulips that are the symbol of spring here in Ottawa have started to bloom a bit early – perhaps too early for the 60th annual Canadian Tulip Festival that begins May 4th. Tulips have been part of the Ottawa landscape since 1945 when the Dutch Royal Family gifted the city with 100,000 bulbs as an expression of gratitude for providing a home for Princess Juliana and members of her family during World War II. During the stay here the Princess gave birth to her second daughter, Margriet. For the encouchment her rooms in the maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital where declared as “extraterritorial”. There is a common misconception that the maternity ward was declared Dutch territory. However as Dutch nationality law is based on the principle of Jus sanguinis it was not necessary to make the ward Dutch territory for the Princess to become a Dutch citizen. At the time Canada followed the rule of jus soli, so it was only necessary for Canada to disclaim the territory temporarily so that the Princess would not, by virtue of birth on Canadian soil, become a Canadian citizen. The day she was born (January 19, 1943) the Dutch flag flew from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill and the carillon rang out to announce the good news.
The primary tulip beds are located along the Canal and as a result lawns and gardens in the surrounding area have renegade blooms popping up, no doubt from bulbs stolen and squirrelled away by Public Enemy #1 in Nora’s books. So in honour of the Tulip Festival, the Dutch Royal Family and those pesky squirrels the first flower in my blog garden is La Tulipe. Like the tulips the engravings – because they were hand coloured – come in an array of colours. And betokening the flowers origins there is a decidedly Turkish cast to the lovely lady and those surrounding her.
There are many variations on the story of how the tulip (Order: Liliales – Family: Liliaceae – Genus Tulipa) made its way from Turkey to Europe. In 1558 Oghier Ghislain de Busbecq,while serving as Ambsassador to Suleyman the Magnificant, remarked on them as a flower not before seen in Europe. However there exists a description in 1559 of tulips flowering in Councillor Herwart’s garden in Ausburg in Bavaria. By 1573 Carolus Clusius had planted tulips in the Imperial Botanical Gardens of Vienna and later at the Hortus Botanicus at Leiden when he became director in 1593. Though tulips had appeared in Dutch gardens before that time the flowering of Clusius’s tulips in 1594 is consider the “official” introduction of the tulip into the commercial market in the Netherlands. As hard as it may be to believe it triggered a market speculation in tulip bulbs that let to tulip mania in the 1630s and the financial collapse that followed. To this day the tulip has remained one of the images most associated with the Netherlands and still ranks as a major industry.
Grandville’s engraving serves as an illustration for the tale of La Sultana Tulipia which traces the history of the tulip in Holland and tells the sad story of a tulip that has been changed into a Dutch merchant’s daughter by the Flower Fairy. On a voyage the Merchant and his daughter are captured by Barbary pirates and eventually sold into slavery: the father as a farm labourer and the beautiful Tulipia as an odalisque in the harem of the mighty Sultan Shahabaam. The Sultan is captivated by Tulipia’s beauty and makes her his Sultana. But sadly Tulipia proves, in the Sultan’s eyes at least, unworthy of the position.
Had Tulipia’s ambition equalled her beauty, she might long have preserved her power. But she was indifferent. Her mind was inactive. She knew not how to sing, to dance, to make puns or to solve riddles; and these were great deficiencies in the eyes of a master so sagacious as Shahabaam.
Poor Tulipia is replaced in the Sultan’s affections by an actress from the Varietes who turns out to be Rose-pompom, a sister flower who has also been given human form by the Flower Fairy. Having fallen from favour Tulipia is soon dispatched to an ignominious and watery end.
And the moral of her sad tale is summed up thus:
For a few days the tragical end of the unfortunate sultana was the common topic – and then she ceased to be named. No one regretted her. Beauty without intelligence leaves few traces on the memory.
I sincerely hope that not all of Grandville’s lovely flowers end up so tragically as they are added to my garden.
27 April – 1749: First performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks in Green Park, London.