Rembrandt Harmenszn. van Rijn: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632)

(Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands)

The subject of this painting is an anatomy lesson. This lesson took place on 16 January 1632 during which Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, the official City Anatomist of Amsterdam, would perform a public dissection on the body of a criminal. Such a dissection was a public event and was open to students, colleagues and the general public. The body is that of the 41-year old Adriaan Adriaanszn (Aris Kindt) who was hanged earlier because of armed robbery. The main person on this painting is Nicolaes Tulp. He was a physician, surgeon, writer, pharmacist and mayor of Amsterdam. In his career as a physician he published the Pharmacopoea Amstelredamensis which became the standard work for the The Apothecary guild and required reading material for any chemists who wanted to set up shop in Amsterdam. His other famous book is the "Observationes Medicae" from 1641 which contains about 231 cases of disease and death, including the earliest Western drawing of a chimpanzee. Tulp also describes the condition we know as migraine, the devastating effects to the lungs caused by tobacco smoking, and reveals an understanding of human psychology in a description of the placebo effect. Tulp also discovered the ileocecal valve at the junction of the large and small intestines, still known as Tulp's valve. The other persons on this painting are colleagues of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Their names are: Jacob Blok, Hartman Hartmansz., Adraen Slabran, Jacob de Witt, Mathijs Kalkoen, Jacob Koolvelt and Frans van Loenen. The persons who is missing from this painting is the preparator who would prepare the body for the lesson. During the 17th century, a dissection was regarded as a menial and bloody work which a doctor would not do. Usually this type of work was done by a barber surgeon who would handle all the type of work which involved blood. for this reasons the painting is also lacking cutting instruments. The enormous book on the right is textbook on anatomy. Tulp is showing to his colleagues the relationship between the forearm muscles and the fingers. The anatomy of the arm is not entirely correct - several elements of the different muscles are switched and in reality not visible from this position. also interesting to notice is the signature of Rembrandt at the top. this was the first painting which he signed with his first name, rather than his monogramme RHL. This painting was probably ordered by the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons in the year 1632.