Enfilade

New Book | Meltdown!

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 22, 2021

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Accompanying the exhibition Fortune and Folly in 1720 (scheduled to open at the New York Public Library in September), the related publication is now available from Brepols:

Madeleine Viljoen, Nina Dubin and Meredith Martin, Meltdown! Picturing the World’s First Bubble Economy (Turnhout: Harvey Miller, 2020), 157 pages, ISBN: 978-1912554515, $65 / €50.

Meltdown! focuses on the depiction of the first international financial crisis following the 1720 collapse of stock market bubbles in England, France and the Netherlands.

This book tells two parallel stories: one of the spectacular rise and fall of the world’s first bubble economy, and another of the enterprising art industry that chronicled its collapse. The Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles, spawning the invention of French banknotes as well as joint-stock companies built on fantasies of New World trade, imposed on everyday Europeans a crash course in new financial products. In turn, a bubbling print market relentlessly caricatured the meltdown of 1720, offering viewers an entertaining primer on the otherwise bewildering realities of modern economic life. Such satirical works—most notably a Dutch compendium titled The Great Mirror of Folly (Het groote tafereel der dwaasheid )—helped to demystify the disaster by deploying familiar theatrical characters and tragic-comic motifs. Likening the speculative mania to an infectious disease, and spoofing the ‘herd behavior’ of a money-crazed public, its prints portrayed malevolent traders, hoodwinked investors, and a chorus of heroes and villains both real and legendary, from the rakish financier John Law to the foolish Harlequin to the goddess Fortuna. Three hundred years later, our current moment offers a uniquely fitting vantage point from which to reconsider the significance of the bubbles and of the artworks that channeled the fears and desires they unleashed.

Nina L. Dubin is an associate professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Specializing in European art since 1700, she has published widely on the production of art within an economy of risk.

Meredith Martin is an associate professor of Art History at New York University and the Institute of Fine Arts. Specializing in European art of the long eighteenth century, she has published widely on gender and architectural patronage as well as maritime art, mobility, and exchange in the early modern world.

Madeleine C. Viljoen is Curator of Prints and the Spencer Collection at The New York Public Library. Responsible for the Library’s collection of prints and rare illustrated books, she has published widely on early modern printed images, with special attention to the goldsmith-engraver, the reproductive print, and ornament.

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