The overall theme is floral: not wild flowers but the extremely expensive cultivated flowers that were coming to prominence at the beginning of the seventeenth century. This concentration on exotic blooms in the present manuscript was a deliberate attempt to link the De La Broye family with the opulence that these flowers implied. The most famous of these luxury plants was the tulip, and given the time and the place where these drawings were done it is no surprise to find various cultivars of the tulip predominating. All of the varieties shown are of the most expensive bybloemen group. The courtly interest of the 1600s had by the 1620s become more widespread, and from 1634 to 1637 tulips, like the multi-coloured varieties pictured here, were the flowers which fuelled the tulipomania craze in the Netherlands. At its height, sums equal to the cost of a good-sized house on the waterfront in Amsterdam were gambled on single bulbs. These manuscripts form ONE OF THE EARLIEST KNOWN COLLECTIONS OF IMAGES OF A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF TULIPS: at least twenty are pictured, and although they are not identified, they form a rare and valuable record of the cultivars of the period. In addition to tulips, the images also include pinks, narcissi, irises, martagon lilies, roses and asters.
The manuscript is further enlivened by images presumably of the De La Broye family undertaking suitably aristocratic pursuits. These include a preponderance of military subjects, but also hunting and cooking.
The two documents, produced for the De La Broye family of Lille, can be dated to a golden period for the city of Lille when the city and a large area of what is now northern France was ruled over by Spain, forming the Spanish Netherlands. Now a bound collection of vellum sheets of various sizes, these were originally glued together to form two document rolls with the illuminated panels acting as dividers between each vertical column of text. Internal evidence shows that both rolls were compiled for the De La Broye family as proofs of nobility. To achieve the status of gentleman it was necessary for an individual in trade to prove that his family had in the past been of sufficient standing to warrant his being elevated once again.
To provide this proof the De la Broye family apparently retained the services of J. Simon the premier greffier or chief clerk of the Chamber of Accounts of Lille. He arranged for the archives to be searched for every reference to the good work or good standing of the family. These extracts (dating from the 13th to the 16th century) were then copied out by skilled scribes using various calligraphic and textual hands (apparently in imitation of the originals). Each extract was headed by a precis of what it was and a note about which original document it had been taken from, and each was attested to by J. Simon. An overall summary of the findings was added which was signed by J. Simon (roll 1: signed twice and dated once 26 October 1630; roll 2: signed once).
A REMARKABLE ILLUSTRATIVE RECORD OF THE SOCIOECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TULIPMANIA.
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