In 17th Century Amsterdam, an orphaned girl, Sophia, is forcibly married to a rich and powerful merchant - an unhappy "arrangement" that saves her from poverty. However, she wishes for more than an ordinary life of wealth and propriety.
After her husband commissions a portrait, she begins a passionate affair with the painter, a struggling young artist. The two carry out their affair with increasing doses of rashness and deception, meanwhile becoming dependent on the complicity of a servant, the astonishing gullibility of the old man, and the fast cash to be made on the tulip-bulb exchange. Seeking to escape the merchant's ever-reaching grasp, the lovers risk everything and enter the frenzied tulip bulb market, with the hope that the right bulb will make a fortune and buy their freedom.