Tuesday, 20 September 2011

TULIPOMANIA, A raging fever for a flower that turned men crazy.

An  essay based on the book The Tulip,  Anna Pavord's book, (1999).
Marc T.

Passion for flowers is a true sign of devotion for nature in Western culture, and early in history, this passion was expressed in the creation gardens to idealize nature and  in collecting exotic plants by the aristocracy.
Why flowers and what is the secret behind flowers that can turn men and women crazy.What is the hidden link with  flowers that is inspiring an outrageous behavior. This essay is travelling us back to the Golden Age in the Netherlands, between 1634 and 1640. During six years the Dutch were literally captured by a fever with a never seen equivalent in history. What happen to the Dutch aristocracy during the Golden Age is still unknown.Centuries later the phenomenon was still in the memories also outside Holland. 
In 1841, the Scottish journalist, Charles Mackay wrote in  "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" "...12 acres (5ha) of land were offered for a Semper Augustus bulb..." Mackay in its book claims that "many such investors were ruined by the fall in prices, and Dutch commerce suffered a severe shock". 
From a biological approach, flowers are the sexual organs of a plants, and maybe this is explaining why we are attracted by  flowers, revealing hidden sexual phantasms and fantasies in a subtle interaction between  smells, colors and forms.  We can observe how delicately we manipulate flowers, it is an almost sensual gesture and is evoking amazing sensations often close to love emotions.In other cultures its symbolizes fertility and sometimes also the evil. In some African tribes some flowers are attributed to the bad evil, while other flowers are used to protect the villages. In all cultures in the world  flowers are an integer part of cultural and social life. 
Flowers are  important actors in  exchanges and relationships between persons, with no difference if it concerns men or women, differences in age or cultural background. In  Romantic England and Victorian period, young lovers were communicating their devotions through flowers, giving a rose was a demand, separating the petals from the flower was a refusal.  Flowers contributed to an extraordinary epithet of desires and seduction.
The high society made of proud of  to posses the most spectacular gardens with plants coming from all over the world. The gardens were places to meet or to invite,  to hide lovers and mistresses, it was and still is an ideal location to exhibit wealth and power.
Some flowers have an incredible, almost magical and even mystical, attraction and ,  for still unknown reasons, some flowers can have such an impact that it changes dramatically our lives. We know the story of roses in perfume making, the unbelievable magic power of the Rosa Damascena used in the most exclusive fragrances.
"Malle wagen"(Dutch for the foolish charriot) Hendrik Gerritsz Pot 1640.
Allegoriy of tulip.
"Flora" the Godess of flowers, is blowing by the wind and rides with a tippler, money changers and the two faced Godess "Fortuna". The y are followed by dissolute Haarlem weavers, on their way to destruction in the sea

The Tulip is another of those flowers that had such a impact. Why  men turned absolutely crazy for this plant, was it  unlimited love or an evil magic power. In the 17th century the Tulip was ruling Kingdoms, was making fortunes and unfortunately it was also creating catastrophes and disasters amongst rich people getting bankrupt by a simple flower growing in Turkey mountains and became a never seen power.

"Flowers in a glass vase"   Ambrosius Bosschaerts The Elder 1573 - 1614.
Born in Antwerp, Belgium and living in The Netherlands, Ambrosius Bosschaerts the Elder was one the Great masters  in still life painting in the Dutch Golden Age.
National Gallery London.

The tulip does not disappoint. Its background is full of more mysteries, dramas, dilemmas, disasters and triumphs than any besotted aficionado could reasonably expect. In the wild, it is an Eastern flower, growing along a corridor which stretches either side of the line of latitude 40 degrees North. The line extends from Ankara in Turkey eastwards through Jerevan and Baku to Turkmenistan, then on past Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent to the mountains of the Pamir-Alai, which, with neighbouring Tien Shan is the the hotbed of the tulip family.
As far as Western Europe is concerned, the tulip's story began in Turkey, from where in the mid sixteenth century, European travelers brought back news of the brilliant and until then unknown "Lils Rouges", so prized by the Turks. In fact they were not lilies at all but tulips. In April 1559, the Zurich physician and botanist Conrad Gesner saw the tulip flowering for the first time in the splendid garden made by Johannis  Heinrich Herwart of Augsburg, Bavaria.

The Swiss physician and botanist Conrad Gesner ( engraving unknown appr. 1550)

He described its gleaming red petals and its sensuous scent in a book published two years later, the first known report of the flower growing in Western Europe. The tulip, wrote Gesner, had 'sprung'  from a seed which had come from Constantinople or as others say from Cappadocia'. From that flower and from its wild cousins, gathered over the next 300 years from the steppes of Siberia from Afghanistan, Chitral, Beirut and the Caucasus, came the cultivars which have been grown in gardens ever since. More than 5500 different tulips are listed in the International Register published regularly since 1929 by the Royal general bulbgrowers's Association in the Netherlands. Holland was the setting for one of the most strangest episodes in the long mesmerising story of the tulip. The 'Tulipomania' that raged in Holland between 1634 and 1637 has puzzled historians and economists every since. How could it have ever happened that single bulbs of certain kinds of tulips could change hands for sums that would have secured a town house in the best quarter of Amsterdam? How was it possible that at the height of the tulip fever, a bulb of Admiral van Enkhuysen weighing 215 azen, could sell for 5400 guilders, the equivalent of fifteen years' wages for the average Amsterdam bricklayer?
Certain facts are brought forward to support less certain theories. the setting up of the Dutch East India Compagny in 1602 and Amsterdam increasing importance as a port, marked the beginning of an era of great prosperity for the Dutch. merchants became rich, and in their wake, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists and jewellers did too. Adrian Pauw, Lord of Heemstede, Keeper  of the Great Seal of Holland and envoy of the States General to various foreign courts, was one of the directors of the new East India compagny. his  house, which was just outside Haarlem, stood in magnificent gardens where tulips grew clustered around a mirrored gazebo. The mirrors gave the ilusion that the hundreds of blooms were thousands, for  even Adriaen Pauw could not afford to plant thousands of tulips.

Adriaen  Pauw Lord of Heemstede, Keeper of the Great Seal of Holland (1581 - 1653) 
portrait  by Gerard ter Borch (1617 - 1681)

For rich merchants, fountains, aviaries of rare birds and temples in the Greek style were standard accoutrements of the garden. But the tulip was the ultimate status  symbol, the definitive emblem of how much you were worth. In the 1980s the City traders' Porshe performed the same function, though  in a cruder way. Among the many rare tulips in Pauw's garden was the entire known stock of 'semper Augustus', the most beautifully marked of all the red and white sriped tulips of the early seventeenth century.

Pamphlet  from the Dutch Tulipomania printed 1637

Admiral van der Eijck, from the 1637 catalog of P.Cos, sold for 1045 guilders on 5 February 1637.

A note belonging to Admiraal Liefkens with the weight and prices of the tulip bulbs.
probably from the Alkmaar auction February the 5th 1637.

In the planting season of 1635, as prices began to rise, there was a fundamental change in how bulbs were traded in the Netherlands. increasinglu, they were sold by weight while still in the ground, with only a promissory note to indicate details of a bulb, including its weight at planting and when it would be lifted. the bulbs, themselves, the delivery of which was months away, were not sold, only these paper promisses. Weight was measured in aasen (azen or aces), an extremely small unit equal to approximatively 1/20 th of a gram. Although paying by weight was more fair way to asses price, an immature bulb costing less than a more mature one, it also increased the price of the heavier bulb. And, because a bulb planted in September or October likely would weight substantially more when lifted (after blooming) the following June or July, it encouraged speculation. Even if the price per aas did not change, the price of the bulb, itself, could increase three to five percent on the nine months, depending upon weight. heavier bulbs, too, tended to flower earlier and have more offsets, which are the smallest bulblets attached to the mother bulb.

By the 1640's, when tulipomania was officially over, there were thought to be only twelve bulbs of Semper augustus' still in existence, priced at 1200 guilders each. This was the equivalent of three times the average annual wage in mid seventeenth-century Holland, more or less 480 000  shekels.
If you could not afford the flowers themselves, you commissioned an artist such as Ambrosius Bosschaert or Balthasar van der Ast to paint tulips for you.

Balthazar van der Ast (1593/4 - 1657)

Balthazar van der Ast (1593/4 - 1657)
Flowers and insects

The  grand master in flower painting, the Dutch Jan van Huysum
portrait by Arnold Boonen 1720.
Even the grand master of Dutch flower painting jan van Huysum, could rarely command more than 5000 guilder for a painting. But a single bulb of the tulip 'Admiral Liefkens' changed hands for 4400 guilders at an auction in Alkmaar on 5 february 1637, while 'Admiral van Enkhuijsen' was even more expensive at 5400 guilders. The last of the big spenders bid at this auction of tulip bulbs ninety-nine lots which realised 90 000 guilders, perhaps as much as 36 million shekel in todays money. Because the sale was held in February, while the bulbs were still in the ground, each was sold by its weight at planting time, the weight recorded in azen.

 Jan van Huysum (1682 1749)

Jan van Huysum (1682 - 1749) 
detail. from Vase of Flowers 1722.

But a single bulb of the tulip "Admiral Liefkens' changed hands for 4400 guilders at an auction in Alkmaar on  5 February 1637, while 'Admiral van Enkhuysen' was even more expensive at 5400 guilders. the last of the big spenders bid at this auction of tulip bulbs ninety-nine lots which realised 90 000 guilders, perhaps as much as 30 million shekel in today's money. Because the sale was held in February, while the bulbs were still in the ground, each was sold by its weight at planting time, the weights recorded in azen. Offsets carry the same characteristics as their parents. That is why they were valuable.
In the end, there is no way to explain why tulip fever affected the solid, respectable burghers of Holland in a such an aberrant way. During a few years between 1630 until 1640 the Golden Age in the Netherlands was possessed and obsessed by a single flower called, tulip.

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