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REF ICONOGRAPHY & REFERENCE - The four-flower motif
The four-flower motif  

The four-flower motif

Lexical definition
The four- flower motif is an emblematic bouquet, comprising of tulips, roses, hyacinths and carnations, growing from clusters of leaves, and was designed by the artist Kara Memi between the years 1540 to 1560 in Istanbul.  
During the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), new designs were renovated by the heads of the imperial scriptorium (nakkashane). One of them was Kara Memi, who followed the footsteps of his master Şahkulu, and was inspired by the sumptuous plants cultivated in the garden of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Memi interlaced various flowering fruit trees, cypresses, pomegranates and flowers in his new drawings. In particular, he combined four flowers: tulips, roses, hyacinths and carnations into a bouquet, portrayed in a naturalistic style. This motif became a central theme in Ottoman decoration and soon was adopted as the emblem of the Empire - depicted on gates of fortified walls, as for example, on the gate in Ioannina (now Greece) and other official objects and documents.
Over the years, Kara Memi's innovative motif went through stylistic and iconographic changes. Sometimes, several flowers were omitted and those remaining were represented as ornaments rather than emblems. Two of them were the three-petal tulip and the fan-shaped carnation, which were frequently combined, and depicted in
embroidery and utensils.
The centralized governance of the Ottoman Empire and its powerful artistic influence, led to a unification of the arts all over the Empire. Both traditional and innovative design spread to countries throughout the Empire, becoming the visual vocabulary of local artists. Nonetheless, the common motifs underwent stylistic changes while maintaining features of the original model.  The Ottoman artistic legacy was so influential that long after the decline of the Empire, it continued to exist.
As a result of the unification of motifs, the four-flower motif is one of the most frequently decorative images since the end of the 16th century.  Jewish artifacts, which were made within the Ottoman cultural environment, such as Greece, the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East, also utilized this motif. It sometimes resembles Memi's original design and sometimes appears in a stylized version.  The four-flower emblem adorns dedicatory plaques produced in Greece in the 18th century and Esther scroll containers of the 19th century. The same motif appears on various embroideries used as Torah mantles and ark curtains, made in Bulgaria. In southern Tunisia, carved Torah arks from the beginning of the 18th century are adorned with the four-flower motif.


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Last Updated: 21 October, 2014
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