I took a short train ride from Amsterdam to the nearby town of Haarlem, especially to visit the Frans Hals Museum. One of the more charming pieces I found there featured monkeys and tulips. Frans Hals was a contemporary of Rembrandt; they competed for the same clientele of wealthy Dutch citizens during the Golden Age of Dutch painting, in the 1600s. His namesake museum has many Hals paintings, plus work by other artists of his time.
“A Satire of Tulip Mania,” by Breughel the Younger, was painted in 1640, just after the debacle of the tulip boom and bust cycle. This was the seventeenth-century equivalent of the dot-com boom and bust. It was probably the first modern instance of rampant speculation in a commodity, followed by a crash. At the height of the frenzy, a single tulip bulb sold for ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.
Brueghel dressed his gullible monkeys in contemporary clothes and showed them facing debtor’s court and even urinating on discarded tulips, turned from priceless to worthless overnight.
Today the tulip trade is much more stable. The museum had spectacular arrangements of tulips and other spring flowers in every room.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!