Rembrandt Paints The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp is a 1632 oil painting by Rembrandt housed in the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Dr. Nicolaes Tulp is pictured explaining the musculature of the arm to medical professionals. The corpse is that of the criminal Aris Kindt, strangled earlier that day for armed robbery. Some of the spectators are various doctors who paid commissions to be included in the painting.

The event can be dated to 16 January 1632: the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons, of which Tulp was official City Anatomist, permitted only one public dissection a year, and the body would have to be that of an executed criminal.

Anatomy lessons were a social event in the 17th century, taking place in lecture rooms that were actual theatres, with students, colleagues and the general public being permitted to attend on payment of an entrance fee. The spectators are appropriately dressed for a solemn social occasion. It is thought that, with the exception of the figures to the rear and left, these people were added to the picture later.

One person is missing: the Preparator, whose task it was to prepare the body for the lesson. In the 17th century an important scientist such as Dr. Tulp would not be involved in menial and bloody work like dissection, and such tasks would be left to others. It is for this reason that the picture shows no cutting instruments. Instead we see in the lower right corner an enormous open textbook on anatomy, possibly the 1543 De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius.

Medical specialists have commented on the accuracy of muscles and tendons painted by the 26-year-old Rembrandt. It is not known where he obtained such knowledge; it is possible that he copied the details from an anatomical textbook. However, in 2006 Dutch researchers recreated the scene with a male cadaver, revealing several discrepancies of the exposed left forearm compared to that of a real corpse. The surgically astute will notice that the origin of the exposed forearm muscles would seem to indicate that the flexor compartment originates at the lateral epicondyle, when it is, in fact, the medial epicondyle. It is the common extensor origin that originates at the lateral epicondyle.

The face of the corpse is partially shaded, a suggestion of umbra mortis (shadow of death), a technique that Rembrandt was to use frequently. The painting is signed in the top-left hand corner Rembrandt f[ecit] 1632. It is the first known instance of Rembrandt signing a painting with his forename as opposed to the initials RHL (Rembrandt Harmenszoon of Leiden), and is thus a sign of his growing artistic confidence.

It was during Rembrandt's Leiden period (1625-1631) that Lastman's influence was most prominent. It is also likely that at this time Lievens had a strong impact on his work as well. Paintings were rather small, but rich in details (for example, in costumes and jewelry). Religious and allegorical
Allegory

Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric, but an allegory does not have to be expressed in language: it may be addressed to the eye, and is often found in realistic painting, sculpture or some other form of Mimesis, or representative art....
themes were favored, as were tronies, half-length figures not intended as specific portraits. In 1626 Rembrandt produced his first etchings, the wide dissemination of which would largely account for his international fame. In 1629 he completed Judas Repentant, Returning the Pieces of Silver and The Artist in His Studio, works that evidence his interest in the handling of light and variety of paint application, and constitute the first major progress in his development as a painter. During his early years in Amsterdam (1632-1636), Rembrandt began to paint dramatic biblical and mythological scenes in high contrast and of large format (The Blinding of Samson, 1636, Belshazzar's Feast
Belshazzar's Feast (Rembrandt)

Belshazzar's Feast is a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn created in about 1635. The source for the painting is the story of Belshazzar and the The writing on the wall in the Old Testament Book of Daniel....
, c. 1635 Danaë
Danaë (Rembrandt)

Danaë is Rembrandt's painting from the collection of Pierre Crozat which from the 18th century resides in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg....
, 1636), seeking to emulate the baroque style of Rubens. With the occasional help of assistants in Uylenburgh's workshop, he painted numerous portrait commissions both small (Jacob de Gheyn III
Jacob de Gheyn III (painting)

Jacob de Gheyn III, also known as Jacob III de Gheyn, is a 1632 oil painting by Rembrandt. The portrait is of Netherlands engraving Jacob de Gheyn III and is part of a pair....
) and large (Portrait of the Shipbuilder Jan Rijcksen and his Wife, 1633, Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp is a 1632 oil painting by Rembrandt housed in the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, the Netherlands....
, 1632).