by Liesbeth Missel, curator Wageningen UR Library
Tulips, like wooden shoes and windmills, are known all over the world as an emblem of the Netherlands. The wooden shoes and mills have become quaint relics of the past, cherished mostly because they help the tourist trade. Because of their considerable importance as a product for Dutch export tulips remain a living symbol of the country.
Originally however tulips were imported to the Netherlands as well, for the plant is not indigenous to the country. In the 16th century the Netherlands were jointed together with Belgium and the nothern part of France as the 17 Provinces or Low Countries. They belonged to the Spanish empire of Philips II and were governed by the duke of Parma. The ‘discovery’ of the tulip is generally ascribed to the Fleming Augier Ghislain de Busbecq. He was the Austrian ambassador at Turkey when he saw the tulip at Adrianople in 1554. After his retirement he documented seeing this tulip in his book ‘The four epistles of A.G. Busbequius, concerning his embassy into Turkey ’(London, 1676; Dutch ed. 1662).
The tulips from Turkey were no wild plants, but mostly garden plants, already cultivated for a long time. Originally the wild tulips came from Central Asia, which was partly under Turkish rule then. The heyday of the Turkish tulip culture, however, was yet to come. A manuscript of Sheik Mohammed Lalizari (lalé means tulip and lalizari means tulip lover) from the early 18-th century mentions 1,323 kinds of tulips!
Not long afterwards, Carolus Clusius (1526-1609) was employed as the Austrian court botanist in Vienna from 1574 till 1588. In his book of 1583 Clusius mentions the introduction of tulips by Busbecq and of obtaining seedlings from Brussels. Clusius had the tulip varieties grown and spread them among fellow botanists in Europe. He is therefore known as being primarily responsible for the introduction of the tulip as a cultivated garden plant in Europe.
It was about 1565 that tulips were first grown in the Low Countries. Around 1565 Clusius was living in the Southern Netherlands at Mechelen or Mechlin where he saw some tulips at the garden of Jean de Brancion. An illustration of the plant appears in a book published in Antwerp in 1568: Florum et coronarium odoratumque nonnularum herbarium historia by Rembert Dodonaeus. It is known that Dodonaeus or Dodoens obtained garden plants from Clusius for his book. So this tulip is probably the same as Clusius saw at the house of Mr. de Brancion.
Clusius first published about some tulip varieties in 1576 in the appendix on oriental or Thracian garden plants of his book Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Hispanias observatarum historia (Antwerp, by Plantin). In 1583 Clusius published his book on plants seen in the Austrian countries, under the title Rariorum aliquot stirpium, per Pannoniam, Austriam, et vicinas quasdam provincias observatarum historia. It contains in the appendix elaborate descriptions of 34 kinds of variegated early tulips, some late tulips and intermediaries and a reference to the Tulipa sylvestris. A last section on tulips was written by him in 1592 in his Rariorum plantarum historia (Antwerp, published 1601). Clusius already accounts there of the 'breaking' in colour in tulips with a weakened condition. Also the description of viriscent flowers, still grown as 'Tulipa viridiflora' is new. 22 woodcuts with tulips were added to this description.
And yet tulips had been known on the continent before the time of Clusius. Conrad Gesner, a Swiss botanist saw a tulip in a garden at Augsburg, Germany, in 1559. He was the first to publish an illustration two years later in Caspari Collino Pharmacopoeo part of Valerius Cordus Annotationes in Pedacii Dioscoridis Anarzabei De medica materia libros V. (1561). Linnaeus named the ornamental tulip in 1753 after Gesner: Tulipa gesneriana, a name still used for ornamental tulips. Gesner’s tulip was a low, early blooming plant, with fragrant red flowers, something like the present day Christmas tulip / Tulipa"Duc van Tol".
The Italian physician Mattioli also published a print of a tulip. He did so in the German editions of his Herbal of 1562 and 1563. Mattioli was at that time the personal physician of the emperor Maximilian II in Vienna. He also published it in his Latin edition of Commentaries on Dioscorides in 1565 but with no description. The woodcut recalls of the 'Duc van Tol' by Gesner.
Busbecq is famous as the man who imported the tulip from Turkey but he was not the only man who did so. Clusius relates that a merchant of Antwerp received a shipment of tulips in 1570 and did not know how to handle it. They tried eating them sugarcoated. The bulbs were saved by a man called Joris Rye, who put them at Clusius' disposal. In the same year 1570 the Flemish physician Lobelius (Matthias de L'Obel) published a picture of a tulip from Venice in his Adversaria. This plant came no doubt also directly from Turkey. More tulip varieties were published by Lobelius in his Plantarum seu stirpium historia of 1576 (Antwerp, by Plantin) among them the tulipa praecox purpurea, and in his Kruydtboeck of 1581.
In the third quarter of the 16-th century tulips became gradually known in the Netherlands. People heard them being mentioned, possibly even saw illustrations of the flower and did not know the plant itself. In Wageningen UR Library we have a manuscript with an illustration of a tulip without text. The handwritten text looks like the text of Dodoens' herbal of 1563; however the watermarks in the paper date from about 1630. The illustration of the tulip was added. The tulip is probably not depicted after nature, since the leaves are portrayed as small, with a round ending and in pairs originating from the stem. The artist and author of the manuscript are unknown, but it seems reasonable to situate them in the southern part of the Low Countries.
From 1570 on the number of known varieties of tulips shows a marked increase. Early, mid-early and late blooming tulips are described in many colours and forms: red, yellow, white:
Clusius mentions "broken tulips", as a result of a disease. These flowers had a flame like pattern and became far more popular than tulips in one colour. The names of tulip lovers mentioned in the books of Dodoens, Lobelius and Clusius suggest that interest in the flower originally was confined to the Southern Netherlands. That was to change with the Spanish occupation of Antwerp in 1585, when many Flemings fled to the protestant North . Northern Dutch noblemen and provinces had started a revolt against Spanish reign which would last for the next 80 years.
When Clusius too came to Leiden in 1593, the bulb culture in the north received a further injection. The aged Clusius became professor of botany at Leiden University, where in 1594 under his supervision work began on laying out the Leiden Hortus Botanicus. He reserved all his bulbs for this garden. 1594 is known as the year when the first tulips where flowering in the Northern Netherlands. But tulips were already so much in vogue in the Northern Netherlands that not long afterwards Clusius' tulips were stolen from the Leiden Hortus. Thus speeding the proliferation of tulips. A reconstruction on scale of the so-called Clusius garden is part of the present Hortus in Leiden and visitors can admire here in spring several bulbs.
The Dutchman Emanuel Sweerts was one of the first to put flower bulbs up for sale, at the annual fair in Frankfurt am Main and later also in Amsterdam. His book Florilegium was printed in 1612 and can be considered as a finely illustrated trading catalogue of plants and prints. His book offers all kinds of bulbs and also all kinds of exotic plant species from the far-off trading posts of the Dutch East- and West India Companies, especially bulb plants from the Cape of Good Hope. The illustrated tulips here are also striped or flamed. This book of Sweerts went through many editions and was reprinted as late as 1654. Meanwhile the number of tulip varieties depicted in the several editions rose profoundly.
In 1614 not long after Sweerts' Florilegium, Crispijn vande Passe the Younger published his Hortus Floridus, a collection of copper engravings with a little text on how to grow bulbs and other flowers. The book got many editions in many languages a thus enlarged the fame of the tulip. The chapter Spring starts with a title page showing a typical city garden at the beginning of the 17th century with some bulbs and other flowers and clipped trees. The most striking thing we observe is the fact that the flowers grow apart, one by one in a bed, like museum objects. These beds are surrounded by buxus plants as was the fashion from Italy from about 1600.
The fast development of the range of tulips varieties is reflected in the tulip books produced in the Netherlands from about 1634. These books (many watercolours later bounded in a book together) were in fact manuscript catalogues of tulips up for auction. Prospective clients, country estate owners, could decide what to buy from the watercolours, often the work of well-known artists. This kind of buying must have been something like window shopping, for the prices fetched by bulbs in the 1630's were exceedingly high. It explains why so much money could be invested in the tulip books.
Interest for the tulips of Clusius and his time had waned; "broken tulips" with a flamed pattern were all the rage. As said before we now know that these wonderfully striped tulips are the result of an infection. The extent to which a bulb would be infected could not be predicted at that time; it remained a complete surprise how the flower would be "broken". This was a major part in the attraction. But now we know that broken tulips after some years are totally ill and not any longer have a fine pattern.
In the entire world, 43 tulip books are known to have existed. Of these books, 34 were made in the Netherlands during the first half of the seventeenth century. There are only some Dutch tulip books from that period left in the world. The most famous are two books of the painter Jacob Marrel. The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam has one of his tulip books and the other is in a private collection in the United States. Another famous tulip book is that one of Judith Leijster (a pupil of Frans Hals) and others, in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. Wageningen UR Library is also the happy owner of a tulip book. This Tulip book of P. Cos from 1637 is not the most extending in articity but scientifically the most interesting. The book consists of nearly 70 tulips in watercolour. Only this tulip book has a mentioning of the names, weight and the prices for which each bulb was sold. P. Cos was a florist or a nursery man from Haarlem. Haarlem was to be known for its excellent grounds for bulb growing.
The most expensive one in the Tulip book of P. Cos, the Viseroij, was sold for Dfl 3,000 and Dfl 4,200. Fifteen or twenty times a year salary of a schooled craftsman then. Compared with the inflation within the real estate market over more than 3, 5 centuries that would be about 1, 5 to 3 million US dollars of today. And that in those days! For these prices at the height of the Tulipomania you could buy a nice house along the canals of Amsterdam or, at the end, be ruined for the rest of your life as the painter Jan van Goyen experienced.
Numerous Tulipomania pamphlets were published ridiculing the craziness of this speculative trade. At the same time they informed people how to get into the trade. 30 different Tulipomania pamphlets are held at Wageningen UR Library. Many of them are in verse, some even in strong language.
This period saw a rapid development of the range of cultivated tulip varieties. 'Broken' tulips, showing a flame pattern, were all the rage. Tulips that were not the fashion were relatively cheap. And they were easy to grow and to 'break' thus becoming within everymen's interest. Speculation rose in the years 1634 to 1637 to an extent that bulbs were sold faster than they could grow. Consequently they were sold in advance, on paper. These papers were re-sold before harvesting making higher prices every time. The trade became profitable not to the lovers of flowers but of money. Prices did spiral to a ridiculous level for bulbs of which neither buyer nor seller had seen the flower. This Tulipomania got out of hand so badly that bulb growers themselves asked the government to ban the trade. Nowadays many books are written about this phenomena and why it happened to the Calvinistic, civil society of the Dutch Republic.
We can divide the 17th-century broken tulips in some groups:
• Admiral tulips: rose or red striped tulips on a white ground.
• General tulips: fiery scarlet striped tulips on a white ground.
• Paragon tulips: with bigger flowers and yet beautiful colours as the admiral and general tulips.
To these group names Admiral, General and Paragon mostly a name of a person was added; this person had been the name of a florist or the owner of a tulip. So these are not the names of famous admirals or generals. We know for example the names Liefkens, Verijck, Rotgans and Backer. These men probably were very important for the culture of tulips in The Netherlands.
Some names in the Tulip book of Cos are given as a rebus. Examples are the drawing of a pearl for the tulip called Pearl; the drawing of a cornstalk for the tulip Coornhert; the drawing of a little rose for the tulip Rose of Catolijn. And finally we see a spider web with three spiders for the tulip called Spinnaker, Spider head.
Some modern tulips have still a 17th-century quality; the tulip Lac van Rijn and some other 17th-century forms still exist. You can buy historic bulb species at a nursery called Hortus Bulborum in Limmen, province North Holland. Examples of old tulips, daffodils species and other bulbs from this nursery were also applied in the restored gardens of National Museum Palace Het Loo. Nowadays 'broken' tulips are not infected by viruses but new modern cultivated flamed tulips.
The Wageningen UR Library also conserves some 18th-century botanical illustrations. There are 123 watercolours from the hand of Catharina Lintheimer, drawn between 1714 and 1741. No other works are known by this artist. She was born in Frankfurt, ca. 1685, and buried in Amsterdam. In 1706 Catharina married her cousin Pieter Hunthum, who was 11 years older. The couple lived in Amsterdam at the Keizersgracht (now no. 259), but spent the summer at their country house Sluysna on the well known river Vecht south of Nieuwersluis / province Utrecht . The Hunthums were rich. In 1742 Catharina (Pieter died in 1732) ranked 13th on the list of the highest taxed burghers of Amsterdam . Catharina took lessons with painter Willem van Royen. The series of 123 water colours represents the garden plants in an 18th-century amateur collection. They were probably made in the Sluysna garden along the river Vecht. Towards the end of the 18th-century, the demand for tulips declined because hyacinths had taken over the first place amongst bulbs. Almost 100 years after the top year of the Tulipomania, in 1734, there was a trading hype in hyacinths because a mutation with double blooming suddenly occurred comparable with role the 'broken' tulips played in the Tulipomania.
Printed nursery catalogues, without illustrations, appeared in several languages demonstrating the growth of the international trade. Nicolaas van Kampen en the family Voorhelm (& Schneevoogt) were the top names in the Dutch bulb trade in the 18th century. Simon and Joris Voorhelm are known to have commissioned several artists to make a very large number of bulb illustrations. They were able to pay for them because of the profit they made in the double hyacinth trade. Among these a large number of tulips illustrations (books?) were made by one artist or a small group of collaborating artists. These were probably made for boosting the Dutch international tulip trade in competion with the French. A large part of this collection was part of the collection of the successors of Voorhelm, the Krelage family which was auctioned in 1948. Several private collections of tens or hundreds of these tulip illustrations are still known to exist. Auctions of these illustrations were held in 1987 (Noortman, Maastricht), 1989 (Christie's, Amsterdam) and 1998 (Sotheby, Amsterdam).
The range of tulip varieties still grew and remained considerable. The book Het Nederlandsch Bloemwerk (= Dutch Floriculture), published at the end of the 18th century, mentions some 800 named tulip forms, divided over 16 cultivar groups.
In the 19th Century deviant and abnormal forms of tulips were beloved. We see all kinds of monstruosa's in colour and form, known under the name of parrot or parroquet tulips. In the Netherlands there was not much interest in these forms, but we see them still many times on prints and paintings.
In the 20th century two facts in connection with tulips are very important.
The first is that virus disease in tulips was discovered. In 1926 and 1928 Mr. M. B. McKay ( U. S. A. ) and Miss D. M. Caley ( England ), independent of each other, suggested that the breaking of tulips would be caused by a virus. Only in 1941 this was confirmed in a Dutch (Wageningen) publication by E. van Slogteren and Mrs. M. P. de Bruyn Ouboter: Onderzoekingen over virus-ziekten in bloembollengewassen, part II: Tulpen. (Mededeelingen van de Landbouwhoogeschool, vol. 45, part 4)
The second important fact, specially in connection with the international trade was the tulip's wider range of varieties, dating from shortly after 1900, when hybridization programs were launched with well-defined breeding objectives: namely early blooming tulips with long stems.
They wanted tulips to bloom as early as possible. Every tourist wants to come to Keukenhof at Easter and Easter can be very early.
Three Haarlem based firms were responsible and active in these programs:
The firms E. H. Krelage & Sons of Haarlem and the Firm Zocher & Co, (the last one also famous in The Netherlands because of their name in garden landscaping), were the first to enter this field. The hybridizations of these firms were done by, respectively, F. Singer and J. J. Kerbert. The foundation for the new range of varieties was a collection of some 4 thousand tulips imported from northern France by J. H. Krelage sr. in 1885. From these he presented a new collection in 1889, the Darwin tulips. Their offspring are known as the Mendel tulips.
In 1947 Ernst H. Krelage was awarded an honorary doctorate by Wageningen University for his important contributions to flower bulb cultivation. His book Drie eeuwen bloembollencultuur (Three centuries of bulb culture), published in Haarlem in 1946 has become a classic. Besides that he also published about the tulip- a hyacinth-mania's. Krelage collected a sizeable library on this subject and donated the larger part to the Wageningen UR Library. A smaller part was donated to the Koninklijke Algemene Vereniging voor Bloembollencultuur (Royal Society for Bulb Growers) at Hillegom. The Krelage’s collected also many drawings and prints of plants, dating from about 1600 till 1920, which he cultivated on his nursery. As mentioned before this collection was auctioned in 1948.
The third Haarlem firm, C. G. van Tubergen, also played an essential role in renewing the range of tulip varieties, both by the introduction of wild species from Central Asia and by cross fertilization with this material.