Illustrated tulip at the Royal Botanic Garden in Madrid

The Royal Botanic Garden (RJB-CSIC) in Madrid has launched the international exhibition Tulipa, tulipae. The illustrated tulip, which from the 20th March until next May 20 can be visited in the Villanueva Pavilion, which starts with the techniques of printing and drawing to drive, through the botanical history of the tulip, to the works of art of medium hundred of the best botanists members of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) who also collaborate in the organization of this exhibition. The exhibition has as plot argument to show the botanical aspects of the flower and its illustrated representation throughout history, from the archival and library collections of the botanical garden, up to the present, represented by a catalog of original illustrations of tulips made by the artists of the “Society of Botanical Artists” (SBA) of the United Kingdom.

Throughout the tour of the exhibition they are intimately linked to the two aspects that stand out and lead that storyline: the beauty of the tulip and its illustration. The tulips are herbaceous plants whose bulbs bloom colorful and beautiful flowers in the spring. The area of origin of the Tulipa genus extends along an extensive territory from East Asia to the Mediterranean Region and the vicinity of the Sahara. In Spain there are documents that mention their ornamental cultivation in Al-Andalus since the 11th century. In Iran and Turkey, the tulip is considered a national symbol. And precisely in Holland, internationally qualified as the homeland of this flower, the National Tulip Day is celebrated in January. Today the tulip trade, led by the Netherlands, reaches a global value of approximately 11,000 million euros. The name ‘tulip’ has a nice story, the result of an ambiguity. It seems that in the year 1554 Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq – Austrian ambassador of Emperor Ferdinand I in the then Ottoman Empire – saw a man wearing a tulip flower on his turban, and asked his translator to ask him what his name was. The man, believing that they referred to his turban, answered “tülbend”, and from this word he finally derived the word tulipán. Busbecq was captivated by the tulips he had seen cultivated in the gardens of the court of Suleiman the Magnificent in Constantinople and sent to Europe the first tulip bulbs along with other plants and bulbs. Nowadays, thanks to societies such as the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society, which has kept alive the spirit of the ancient tulips of that time, we have the possibility of imagining how some of those precious tulips were. Precisely is a polyhedral artistic vision of the tulip. In 2016, the Royal Botanical Garden invited The Society of Botanical Artists to participate formally in the exhibition Tulipa, tulipae. Numerous artists got involved in the project buying the tulip bulbs they had chosen to illustrate, planting them in their gardens and terraces in the fall of that year. In the spring the bulbs were ready to be painted. The artists, specialists in their respective techniques, give the sample with precious and meticulous works of art made with watercolor, colored pencils, pastels, graphite, gouaches, oils, achieving a polyhedral vision in artistic images of tulips. The exhibition, inaugurated by the Mayoress of Madrid Manuela Carmena, the Secretary of State, Carmen Vela, the director of the RJB, Jesus Muñoz, and the president of the SAB, Sandra Wall Armitage, is completed with a wide variety of tulips (21,225 bulbs) that have been planted at the entrance of the Botanical Garden and the entrance of the Villanueva Pavilion to complete a mosaic of colors and make this magnificent event a living experience with the start of spring. Designed for all audiences, the exhibition offers educational and outreach activities as workshops, guided tours and live demonstrations, in homage to this unique and unique flower.


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