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The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt

"The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" by Rembrandt
“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt

“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt depicts Dr. Tulp explaining the musculature of the arm to his medical colleagues using a deceased body.

The event occurred in 1632 at the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons, of which Tulp was an official City Anatomist. The Guild was permitted one public dissection a year, and the body would have to be that of an executed criminal.

Anatomy lessons at the time were a social event taking place in lecture rooms with students, colleagues, and the general public being permitted to attend on payment of an entrance fee.

The spectators and participants were dressed for this social occasion. The Surgeon’s Guild would commission a portrait by a leading portraitist of the period on a regular basis.

Rembrandt was commissioned for this painting at the age of 26 years old, having newly arrived in Amsterdam. It was his first significant commission in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt’s portrait advanced the conventions of the genre by including a full-length corpse in the center of the image and creating a dramatic visual storyboard.

Rembrandt’s image is a fiction. In the 17th century, a prominent scientist such as Dr. Tulp would not be involved in menial and bloody work like dissection, and such tasks would be left to others.

The picture shows no cutting instruments. Instead, an enormous open textbook on anatomy is displayed. Each of the men included in the portrait paid an agreed amount of money to be included in the work. The more central figures paid a higher fee.

The painting is signed “Rembrandt. f 1632” on the document on the back wall.

This signature was the first instance of Rembrandt signing a painting with his forename as opposed to the monogrammed RHL (Rembrandt Harmenszoon of Leiden), demonstrating his growing reputation.

The corpse is that of the criminal who was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed earlier on the same day of the scene.

The face of the corpse is partially shaded, suggesting the shadow of death, a technique used by Rembrandt. Medical specialists have commented on the accuracy of muscles and tendons painted by  Rembrandt.


Rembrandt van Rijn was an innovative and prolific master draughtsman, painter, and printmaker. He is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history.

Rembrandt’s works depict a range of styles and subjects, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

  • Title:               The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
  • Artist:             Rembrandt
  • Date:              1634
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   Height: 169.5 cm (66.7″); Width: 216.5 cm (85.2″)
  • Type:              History Painting
  • Museum:        Mauritshuis


The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Rembrandt

A Tour of the Mauritshuis

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (by Rembrandt) 1632

A Tour of History Paintings

Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp, c 1636

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp: How Our Muscles Work

Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp


“Without atmosphere a painting is nothing.”
– Rembrandt


Photo Credit: 1)Rembrandt [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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