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Tilia

Tilia, otherwise known as lime trees, limewood trees, linden trees, or basswood are prevalent throughout the history of art and literature, in both its uses and depiction. Albrecht Dürer was probably in his twenties when he painted his famous Linden Tree on a Bastion.

Albrecht Dürer, Linden Tree on a Bastion, watercolor, gouache on parchment, 34.3 × 26.7 cm (13.5 × 10.5 in), circa 1489-1490, Musée Boymans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Albrecht Dürer, Linden Tree on a Bastion, watercolor, gouache on parchment, 34.3 × 26.7 cm (13.5 × 10.5 in), circa 1489-1490, Musée Boymans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The wood of Tilia trees was also a popular painting surface during the Renaissance.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), A Stag Hunt with the Elector Friedrich the Wise, oil on linden wood, 80.2 × 114.1 cm (31.6 × 44.9 in), 1529, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), A Stag Hunt with the Elector Friedrich the Wise, oil on linden wood, 80.2 × 114.1 cm (31.6 × 44.9 in), 1529, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


 
Limewood was a favorite carving material of sculptors in Renaissance Germany. Tilman Reimenschneider is perhaps the most famous of these artists, and his masterpiece, The Holy Blood Altar in St. Jacob’s Church is a great example.

Holy Blood Altar, sculpture limewood; shrine work fir, overall height 900 cm, (1499-1505) by Tilman Riemenschneider in the St. Jacob church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany, photo by Berthold Werner

Holy Blood Altar, sculpture limewood; shrine work fir, overall height 900 cm, (1499-1505) by Tilman Riemenschneider in the St. Jacob church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany, photo by Berthold Werner

There are also many literary references to the tree. In Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, the love-stricken Werther eventually commits suicide and is buried under a linden tree.

I have implored your father to protect my remains. At the corner of the churchyard, looking toward the fields, there are two lime-trees—there I wish to lie. Your father can, and doubtless will, do this much for his friend. Implore it of him. But perhaps pious Christians will not choose that their bodies should be buried near the corpse of a poor, unhappy wretch like me. Then let me be laid in some remote valley, or near the highway, where the priest and Levite may bless themselves as they pass by my tomb, whilst the Samaritan will shed a tear for my fate.

In Mythology, Ovid tells the story of Baucis and Philemon who accept Jupiter and Mercury into their home, and in return for their kindness they are transformed, she into a linden tree and he into an oak, at the end of their lives.

From Henry T. Riley’s translation of The Metamorphoses of Ovid (other editions), 1893:

Then, the son of Saturn uttered such words as these with benign lips: ‘Tell us, good old man, and thou, wife, worthy of a husband so good, what it is you desire?’ Having spoken a few words to Baucis, Philemon discovered their joint request to the Gods: ‘We desire to be your priests, and to have the care of your temple; and, since we have passed our years in harmony, let the same hour take us off both together; and let me not ever see the tomb of my wife, nor let me be destined to be buried by her.’ Fulfilment attended their wishes. So long as life was granted, they were the keepers of the temple; and when, enervated by years and old age, they were standing, by chance, before the sacred steps, and were relating the fortunes of the spot, Baucis beheld Philemon, and the aged Philemon saw Baucis, too, shooting into leaf. And now the tops of the trees growing above their two faces, so long as they could they exchanged words with each other, and said together, ‘Farewell! my spouse;’ and at the same moment the branches covered their concealed faces.

Books about linden trees…

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Blackwood’s Dark Nature

Some snippets from the weird tales of Algernon Blackwood

From The Willows (1907)

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch Art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

 

The change came suddenly, as when a series of bioscope pictures snaps down on the streets of a town and shifts without warning into the scenery of lake and forest. We entered the land of desolation on wings, and in less than half an hour there was neither boat nor fishing-hut nor red roof, nor any single sign of human habitation and civilization within sight. The sense of remoteness from the world of humankind, the utter isolation, the fascination of this singular world of willows, winds, and waters, instantly laid its spell upon us both, so that we allowed laughingly to one another that we ought by rights to have held some special kind of passport to admit us, and that we had, somewhat audaciously, come without asking leave into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic—a kingdom that was reserved for the use of others who had a right to it, with everywhere unwritten warnings to trespassers for those who had the imagination to discover them.

From The Man Whom the Trees Loved (1912)

He painted trees as by some special divining instinct of their essential qualities. He understood them. He knew why in an oak forest, for instance, each individual was utterly distinct from its fellows, and why no two beeches in the whole world were alike. People asked him down to paint a favorite lime or silver birch, for he caught the individuality of a tree as some catch the individuality of a horse. How he managed it was something of a puzzle, for he never had painting lessons, his drawing was often wildly inaccurate, and, while his perception of a Tree Personality was true and vivid, his rendering of it might almost approach the ludicrous. Yet the character and personality of that particular tree stood there alive beneath his brush—shining, frowning, dreaming, as the case might be, friendly or hostile, good or evil. It emerged.

And finally, from Sand (1912)

Already something in himself had changed. A restlessness, as of that wandering wind, woke in his heart—the desire to be off and away. Other things could rouse this wildness too: falling water, the singing of a bird, an odour of wood-fire, a glimpse of winding road. But the cry of wind, always searching, questioning, travelling the world’s great routes, remained ever the master-touch. High longing took his mood in hand. Mid seven millions he felt suddenly—lonely.

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

 

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