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Tulip Time in Fagel

Ornamental head-piece from Abraham Munting’s Nauwkeurige Beschryving der Aardgewassen [Accurate Description of Terrestrial Plants] (Leiden, 1696). Shelfmark: Fag.GG.3.1,2

TULPENTIJD – the Dutch have a special name for it – the tulip season in the Netherlands, running from late March to mid-May when the bulb fields are streaked with glorious colour and 7 million flowers are blooming in the Keukenhof gardens. Emerging from the Fagel Collection at this season is evidence of the long established association of tulips with the Netherlands, represented in terms of botany and horticulture, scientific study and beautiful illustrations. The tulip reigns in Holland at this time of the year, in private and botanical gardens, in parks, houses and art galleries, in pots outside apartments and shops, on the streets and in transit in bicycle baskets.

In the seventeenth century special vases were designed for displaying tulips, with a single cut flower stem placed in each spout. Tulips were very expensive and sold individually rather than in the large bunches we see today. They are seen to advantage in the signature blue and white Delftware of Holland and in Chinese porcelain vases, as depicted (above right) in an arrangement painted by Maria Sybilla Merian in her lovely work on European insects: De Europische Insecten (Amsterdam, 1730).

Carolus Clusius: champion of the tulip

Originating in Asia, and well established and admired in Turkey, the exact route and date of arrival of the tulip to the Netherlands is uncertain. Certainly trade and commerce played a part, and the most colourful account places a sack of tulip bulbs in a shipment of cloth which arrived from Constantinople as a gift to a merchant in Antwerp, around 1562. Not very impressed after roasting the bulbs and dressing them in oil and vinegar, he threw the rest onto a compost heap in his garden. Joris Rye, a merchant of neighbouring Mechelen is credited with spotting them in flower and rescuing and re-planting them in his garden subsequently writing about them to Carolus Clusius who recounts the story in his Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1583 edition).

Carolus Clusius (Charles de l’Écluse), born in Arras in the Southern Netherlands, was one of the most important European botanists of the sixteenth century, and his name is closely linked with the tulip. The portrait above shows Clusius in a costume of the imperial court in Vienna where he directed the construction of a botanical garden for Emperor Maximilian II between 1573 and 1577. The frequent diplomatic missions between the Habsburg court and the Turkish sultan in Constantinople formed an ideal means of access to rare bulbs from the Middle East and when Clusius came to Leiden as director of the Hortus Botanicus in 1593, at the age of 67, he brought various tulip and other ‘exotic’ bulbs with him.

Here he established one of the earliest botanical gardens, where he introduced and grew a wide variety of flowering bulbs, planting the first tulip bulbs there in 1593, to flower the following year. Here he studied, propagated and promoted the tulip and two flower beds in the Clusius garden were entirely devoted to the plant. As the market for tulips grew and the prices increased many of his bulbs were stolen. Today, one can visit the Clusius Garden, now reconstructed in design and planting from an index and drawings of 1594/95 and 1601. Examples of historical tulips are planted there, such as the ‘Tulipa duc van Tol’ (above), which is among the oldest cultivated varieties in the Netherlands.

Two of the most lovely title pages in the Fagel Collection belong to these important botanical works published in the Netherlands. These are Rariorum Plantarum Historia  by Clusius and the Cruydt-boeck of Rembertus Dodonaeus.  In this first part of his collected works Clusius drew on his travels in Europe, on a network of botanists and collectors, and on his own extensive knowledge to produce this key work which is still relevant today. Detailed descriptions of new and rare plants introduced into Europe are accompanied by hundreds of woodcut illustrations drawn from botanical specimens. A single tulip takes a central position at the bottom of the title page between the Greek ‘fathers of botanical science’ Dioscorides and Theophrastus. It was printed at the famous Plantin printing house in Antwerp, where the family residence and workshop is now the fascinating Plantin-Moretus Museum. There is a also an uncoloured copy at shelfmark:

The famous Flemish physician and botanist Dodonaeus (1517-1585) is best known for his herbal Cruijdeboeck, written in old Flemish and published in 1554; three years later a French translation by Clusius appeared:  Histoire des Plantes. The Cruydt-Boeck of 1644 (above) is the most extensive edition with additions by Clusius. The  title page contains medaillon portraits of Dodonaeus (l) and Clusius (r), and the title frame leads us into a botanical garden with beds planted with tulips, coloured red in this copy, though variations can occur where each book is a unique hand-painted copy.


Striking depictions of tulips in hand-coloured illustrations from Regnum Florae – Kingdom of Flowers by German engraver and naturalist Georg Wolfgang Knorr. Nuremberg, 1772.  Shelfmark: Fag GG.3.11


 Fagel tulip catalogue

The Fagel Tulip Catalogue (TCD MS 1706) is an illustrated manuscript connected to the famous Alkmaar auction of 5 February 1637. This took place just before the tulip bulb market crashed at the height of tulip mania, when trade in tulip bulbs was conducted at inflated prices through futures contracts. These tulip books, or tulip albums are catalogues of flowers in watercolour and gouache commissioned by commercial growers as sales catalogues to illustrate the different varieties of tulips for prospective buyers. In some cases they were albums commissioned by wealthy growers to depict the flowers in their gardens.

The Viceroy tulip depicted above sold for 3,000 guilders (no. 5 on the list), estimated as ten times the annual salary of a skilled craftsman in Holland at the time. The bulbs were sold by weight (asen) and names, prices and weights for some of the specimens can be seen on the list above. The wide variety of tulip names were sometimes called after the grower, or Dutch towns, with fancy epithets attached such as Admiral Gouda, the most expensive tulip being the notorious Semper Augustus, demanding a price in excess of a fashionable house on the banks of the canals in Amsterdam. The tulip catalogue arrived with the rest of the Fagel library in 1802, with loose leaf documents inserted which included receipts for flowers bought by the Fagels and printed records of bulb auctions.

The extraordinary prices quoted at the Alkmaar auction were not paid at the time, as the  bulbs at auction were still in the ground since the previous September and would not be lifted until June, when they were to be delivered and payment made.  Particularly prized were the ‘broken’ or variegated tulips, depicted in the the Fagel Catalogue, and these were wildly speculated on as their pattern could not be predicted. The discovery that this pattern was caused by the aphid-borne mosaic virus was not made until 1928.

Pamphleteering in the Dutch Republic was thriving at this time and tulip fever was a perfect subject for argument and moralistic comment. Among several Fagel pamphlets on this subject the one above refers to the Bible, arguing that those who lose their riches gain something better – access to heaven. The figure of the goddess Flora represented the flower trade in many of these pamphlets, and this one is in the form of an ironic letter of consolation to sorrowful flower-growers, mourning her death.  Troostbrief, aen alle bedroefde bloemmisten …(Haarlem, 1637). Shelfmark: Fag.H.3.23, no.15

Scenes of the town of Alkmaar and its surroundings in North Holland (click on the images for more detail). Engravings from Alkmaer en deszelfs Geschiedenissen uit de nagelatene Papieren van Simon Eikelenberg, Rotterdam,1747 –  Gysbert Boomkamp’s edition of Simon Eikelenberg’s 1739 historical work: Alkmaar en zyne Geschiedenissen. Shelfmark: Fag.T.10.38

In an engraving from the same work, forming a small panel at the bottom of a plan of Alkmaar dated 1597, a man presents a simple flower to a lady; twelve years later a tulip and bulb are prominent in this portrait by a Dutch Golden Age painter, open to differing interpretations but anticipating tulipmania where the bulb itself is a symbol of wealth or even a valuable romantic gift in a changing iconography of flowers.

Decorated book paper with stylised tulip – a Dutch gilt paper cover.

Known as Dutch gilt or Dutch flowered papers, these papers were in fact manufactured in Germany and Italy during the 18th century.  Imported into Holland by enterprising Dutch traders they were exported to France and England. Cover to Oratio ad…Wilhelmum Carolum Henricum...(Utrecht, 1747). Shelfmark: Fag.FF.10.34

Plan of a tulip bed in the Fagel garden. TCD MS 1706/2/6

Among the horticultural books in the Fagel Collection is Le Jardin de Hollande, a manual by Jean de Vivier giving advice on gardening in the French style, with a chapter on the cultivation of tulips: Chapter  IX. Le Jardin de Hollande et des pays-bas planté et garni de tulipes suivant la maniere des Francois. (Leiden, 1714).

The planting plan for a tulip bed in the garden of the Fagel House in the Hague, made on the 16 October 1718 may have been influenced by this work. Species of tulip such as the Bizarden (yellow ground with brown or other coloured markings) are described in De Vivier’s manual.

Any gardener who leaves it until the beginning of the month of November to plant their tulip bulbs is considered lazy by the author of this book. But if you leave it until December you will be classed as negligent as they should have been placed in the ground in October (p 126). So make a note in your gardening diary to have your tulips ready to come out in all their glory during the Tulpentijd!

Some further reading:

The Exotic World of Carolus Clusius 1526 – 1609 [exhibition catalogue]. Leiden University Library, 2009.

Spring into the Fagel Collection: Fagel Spring blog 2017.

Read more about Clusius and botany at the Edward Worth Library Dublin here:

John Loughman, Tulips and building plans: Primary material from the Fagel Collection in Frozen in time : the Fagel Collection in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. 2016. Shelfmark: Berkeley, 1st Floor H-394-937

Anne Goldgar, Tulipmania. 2007

Mike Dash, Tulipomania. 2001

Anna Pavord, The Tulip. 1999

Information on the Fagel Collection:

More botanical illustrations from the early printed books collections on the Digital Collections webpage (keyword: botanical)

Fagel Tulip Album: a catalogue of tulips from 1637, illustrated and with prices and Tulip Mania

Regina Whelan Richardson is an Assistant Librarian in the Department of Early Printed Books, and curator of the Fagel Collection.