Painting ‘Allegory on Tulipmania’ by Jan Brueghel the Younger 1640

The first economic bubble is the tulip mania that took place around 1640 in the Netherlands. During the pinnacle of the tulip mania, a tulip flower bulb was worth as much as a canal house in Amsterdam.

But the market for tulip bulbs collapsed and many investors became bankrupt. The phenomenon tulip mania is still mentioned in the economics books and new economic air bubbles such as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Allegory on Tulipmania

Brueghel made a great painting: ‘Allegory on Tulipmania’ about the phenomenon. On the painting you see a monkey pointing to flowering tulips. Another monkey is holding up a tulip and a moneybag. This is the way Breughel indicated that this painting is about the tulip mania and the tulip trade around 1640.

The deal is closed with a handshake, bulbs are weighed and money is counted, a lavish business diner is being enjoyed. The monkey on the left has a list with the names of expensive tulips. The sword on his side is a symbol of status.

In the background a monkey is riding a horse like a gentleman of rank or postion. The monkey in the middle is completing his deal. The owl on his shoulder is – contradictorily – not the usual symbol of wisdom, but a sign of stupidity because this nocturnal creature is blind by day. Brueghel is ridiculing the Tulipmania by depicting the speculators as foolish monkeys.

The aftermath of the collapse of the tulip trade is also depicted in this painting. On the right a monkey is urinating on some tulips, his purchase deed has become worthless. Behind him a speculator, on account of his debts, has been brought before the judge. Another monkey is sitting in the dock crying. In the middle background a disappointed buyer has begun a fight and to the right another speculator is being carried to his grave.

About the artist: Brueghel or Breughel

Jan Brueghel was born and died in the 17th century in Antwerp (Belgium). He was trained by his father and spent his career producing works in a similar style. Along with his brother Ambrosius, he produced landscapes, allegorical scenes and other works of meticulous detail. Brueghel also copied works by his father and sold them with his father’s signature. His work is distinguishable from that of his parent by being less well executed and lighter.

Jan Brueghel the Younger was traveling in Italy when his father died of cholera, and swiftly returned to take control of the Antwerp studio. After the death of his father he changed his signature from ‘Brueghel’ to ‘Breughel’. The next year in 1626 he married Anna-Maria Janssens, daughter of Abraham Janssens. He soon established himself and was made dean of the Guild of Saint Luke in 1630. (text wikipedia)

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