“One crucial element of the beauty of the tulip that intoxicated the Dutch, the Turks, the French, and the English has been lost to us. To them the tulip was a magic flower because it was prone to spontaneous and brilliant eruptions of color. In a planting of a hundred tulips, one of them might be so possessed, opening to reveal the white or yellow ground of its petals painted, as if by the finest brush and steadiest hand, with intricate feathers or flames of a vividly contrasting hue. When this happened, the tulip was said to have ‘broken’…
“The closest we have to a broken tulip today is the group known as the Rembrandts–so named because Rembrandt painted some of the most admired breaks of his time. But these latter-day tulips, with their heavy patterning of one or more contrasting colors, look clumsy by comparison, as if painted in haste with a thick brush. To judge from the paintings we have of the originals, the petals of broken tulips could be as fine and intricate as marbleized papers, the extravagant swirls of color somehow managing to seem both bold and delicate at once.
(not Rembrandt, but Jan Davidsz de Heem)
“What the Dutch could not have known was that a virus was responsible for the magic of the broken tulip, a fact that, as soon as it was discovered, doomed the beauty it had made possible.” — Michael Pollan