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Science and art to enjoy tulip time

We are in tulip season. Tulips are everywhere and for sure a bunch of them are flourishing in some spot of the house. Parades and promenades along the tulip fields are part of the to-do list of many people these days. That’s not a surprise. Tulips are one of the icons of the Netherlands since the Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius brought them to the country in the 16th century. Nowadays we can enjoy the tulip time every year!

However, we can live an alternative tulip experience, using some art and science as a guide. We can gain insights into the most famous flower in the Netherlands and avoid the tourist crowd.

The Tulip Book of P. Cos

The book was about the Dutch Tulip Mania of the 17th century witnessed. It was written in the middle of this speculative bubble. Nowadays, it is a piece of art. But, at that time it had commercial objectives: to showcase Haarlem florist P. Cos’s available tulips and their prices.

This nursery book is one of the known 43 tulip books edited around the world. Likewise, 34 of them are from the Netherlands and were edited in the first years of the 17th century. Moreover, these publications are manuscripts and well-known artists drew most of their illustrations. Tulip merchants invested a big amount of money to edit them. They were the shopping window: people would decide to buy by looking at the images of the flowers.

The P. Cos’s volume has more than 70 tulips in full flourish. The artists Pieter Holsteijn the Younger and Pieter Schagen drew them. This book is unique due to being the only one with the name of the tulips. The most expensive was the Viseroij: 4,200 guilders. It was a lot of money considering that the price of a modest canal house in Amsterdam was around 4,000 guilders.

Viseroij tulip from P. Cos’s edition. (Credit: Wageningen Agricultural University Library Special Collections)

The tulip fever

During Tulip Mania, the bulb’s prices increased quickly. Investors paid exorbitant amounts of money to get them. According to Anne Goldgar, a researcher from the King’s College of London, this phenomenon was not as irrational as traditional history tells. Tulips were a new luxury product in an economy-growing country. More people were able to buy tulips while they were still rare. So, they purchased them as they also did with paintings or other odd objects such as shells.

Whatever it was, that period enabled the creation of these precious books. The P. Cos’s edition is part of the Wageningen Agricultural University Library Special Collections. Luckily, it is now featured at the In Full Bloom exhibition at the Mauritshuis in The Hague, until 6 June 2022.  It is a great opportunity to see the watercolor tulips created more than three centuries ago.

The new Tulpenmanie wave: enjoy the new era of tulip time

Tulips are not native to the Netherlands. The first tulips came to the country in the 16th century. The scholar of plants Carolus Clusius was the first person to grow bulbs in the Netherlands. In 1592, Leiden University invited him to create a botanic garden focused on medicinal plants, at the Hortus Botanicus. Additionally, the University let him have his own garden, and he had the first large tulip collection in Europe.

Nowadays, the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden still has its tulip stamp. Researchers from Leiden University conduct the citizen science project “Tulpenmanie Leiden”. On one hand, this activity wants to draw attention to the importance of soil biodiversity in the growth and flowering of the tulip. On the other, it aims to map the soil’s biodiversity to know what is the best soil for tulip growth. Thus, finding biological solutions to plant diseases and limiting the use of chemicals.  “Involving everyone in this research creates awareness of the problems surrounding biodiversity. It makes everyone want to be part of a possible solution”, the team pointed out.  

Tulpenmanie: enjoy the tulip time by yourself

The citizen science initiative also includes some experiments at the Hortus Botanicus. At the entrance of the building, researchers planted tulips in different types of soil. When the flowering period finishes, they will analyze the soils. The planters are free to visit and everybody can see how the tulips are flowering.

In addition, there is a special art exhibition called “Tulip Mania”. The artist Anna Fine Foer made it some years ago in collaboration with Leiden University when the sequencing and mapping of the tulip genome started. The result is a series of collages about the Tulip Mania from the 17th century, current cryptocurrency hype interceded with DNA tulip code.

It is the first time the exposition features in the Netherlands. Besides, there are panels about the Tulpenmanie Leiden project and the history of the tulip trip from Asia to the Netherlands. Is possible to visit this artistic exposition at the local in Nieuwstraat, Leiden, until the end of May.

 The highest tulip

Last but not least, Delft has its own unique tulip piece: the tulip pyramid created by Paula Kouwenhoven, director of the Land Art Delft. It is a tribute to the city and its famous product, Delft blue pottery.

The artwork refers to ceramic tulip vases. They were a status symbol and artists have made them since the 17th century. At that time, they decorated them with a Delft blue or Chinese décor. Moreover, the vases were gifts during royal visits. The artistic tulip pyramid is 12-meter-high and was made of innovative sustainable materials. Royal Delft painters hand-painted it with Delft blue motifs.

Since June 2020 the tulip vase stands in the landscape sculpture park of Land Art Delft. It is possible to see it along the A13. Get a ride to the Delft city boundary to enjoy this unique piece of art.

Some useful links

(From the editor: Tulip fields are also the pride of the Netherlands as written in Daniela Trindade’s post about her insights on the country).

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