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The Golden Tulip Reader’s Guide

By Rosalind Laker

The Golden Tulip by Rosalind Laker


Art, love, music, political intrigue, villains, heroes, spies, beauty, and tragedy collide in Rosalind Laker’s splendid tale of a family of Dutch artists in the seventeenth-century heyday of Rembrandt and Vermeer. This guide is intended as a starting point for a discussion about The Golden Tulip.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Describe the members of the Visser family. What is their situation? What is their family life like? How are the three girls alike? How are they different? How would you describe Anna and Hendrick’s marriage?

2. Early in The Golden Tulip, Francesca discovers that her beloved aunt is marrying a man who will take her far from Amsterdam to Venice. She innocently asks her mother if her aunt’s intended will make her “happy forever and ever.” What do you think of Anna’s response, which can be found on page 13? How do her words relate to the events in the rest of the novel?

3. Of Hendrick’s three daughters, Francesca and Aletta have taken after their father and shown talent for painting. What kind of teacher is he? How does Anna see to it that her daughters become apprentices to their father–and thus eligible to apply to the Guild of Amsterdam when they are ready–without him knowing?

4. Discuss Aletta’s ordeal in the alley when she attempts to walk home by herself after dark. What are the consequences of the attack? For Aletta? For the rest of the family? Afterward, she always wears a cap to cover her hair. Why?

5. Anna’s death makes Francesca the woman of the house at age thirteen. Is she suited to this task? How does she get her father to start painting again even in his grief?

6. Describe Pieter van Doorne. When does he see Francesca for the first time? What effect does she have on him then? When do they actually meet? Describe Ludolf van Deventer. What kind of man is he? How does he hide his true nature from people?

7. What does Francesca experience when she approaches her father’s painting of herself as Flora for the first time? How does this painting affect her life and the lives of those around her?

8. Aletta plans to sell her painting to a merchant’s wife, but Sybylla is against it. Why? Why is Aletta willing to take the risk?

9. Why is Hendrick jealous of his daughters? Do you think he is aware of his jealousy? Do you think creativity is linked to a certain kind of temperament–like Hendrick’s–or is the idea of the artistic temperament a romantic affectation?

10. Pieter agrees to give Aletta a small space in his stall at the market to sell her paintings. Why does he agree to help her? Why does he insist he tell Francesca first? Why is she reluctant to tell her sister about her plan?

11. Why does Hendrick at first refuse to let Francesca paint van Deventer’s portrait and then immediately change his mind? What does this reveal about him as a person? As a father?

12. What is Amalia van Deventer’s life like? How does she feel about her husband? What keeps her alive in spite of her sickness? Why does van Deventer kill her?

13. How does van Deventer gain control of Hendrick? What are the terms of payment for Hendrick’s debt? Why does Hendrick accept them? What would you have done in a similar situation?

14. How does Francesca feel about Pieter? She remains aloof from him because of her desire to be a great painter. How could love with Pieter ruin her plans? Although Francesca says she doesn’t want to marry, she agrees to let Pieter visit her in Delft. Why does Francesca eventually realize that she loves him?

15. Francesca is shocked when she meets Geetruyd, the woman who is to be her chaperone while she is in Delft. Why? How is this woman linked to van Deventer? What was your initial impression of Geetruyd? Did your feelings about her change as the novel progressed? What did you think of Clara?

16. Francesca likes Vermeer and his family right from the start of her apprenticeship with him. Why is he a good teacher for her? How is he different as a teacher and as a father from Hendrick?

17. While in Delft, Francesca sends a letter home to her family in which she describes a painting of a chained goldfinch. The letter is meant to make her father reconsider the harsh restrictions she believes he has put on her during her apprenticeship. Like the bird, many characters are held captive by something outside their control. Who else might be described as a prisoner? Of circumstances? Bad judgment? Pride?

18. The maid Neeltje takes a great risk in helping Francesca–once by interrupting van Deventer’s advances and once by warning Aletta of the man’s true nature. How does she do this? How are she and van Deventer linked outside of the employee/employer relationship? What is her advantage over him?

19. Hendrick goes into a rage when he discovers Aletta’s secret paintings. Do you think his anger is justified? Aside from the issue of an apprentice taking credit for work without her master’s permission, what is the deeper reason for his anger? Why does Aletta stop painting? How does this incident affect Aletta?

20. After the accident that nearly kills him, Aletta feels that she is connected to Constantijn de Veere. Why? How are she and this man she hardly knows alike? Why does she feel she is better able to understand his loss than others would be? How does she come to work for him? How is she able to get through to Constantijn when others fail?

21. Sybylla’s dream of marrying a rich man is answered by Adriaen. Did you think he was a good match for her? Why does she fall in love with Hans? Hans intrigues Sybylla by telling her there is a mouse hidden somewhere in the painting he is assisting her father with. Where is the mouse hidden? What does it represent?

22. How does Francesca find out about her father’s arrangement with van Deventer? How does she react?

23. Why does van Deventer spy for the French? Why does Geetruyd? How do Francesca and Pieter become involved? How does unraveling the ring of spies become the key to Francesca’s freedom from her father’s contract with van Deventer?

24. What is the symbolic gesture behind Hendrick’s wedding gift to Aletta?

25. At the end of The Golden Tulip, van Deventer drowns. Do you think anything but death would have put an end to his pursuit of Francesca?

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