“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
- Name: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
- Born: 1606 – Leiden, Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands)
- Died: 1669 (aged 63) – Amsterdam, Dutch Republic (Netherlands)
- Nationality: Dutch
- Movement: Dutch Golden Age, Baroque
- Notable Works:
- The Polish Rider
- The Night Watch
- The Jewish Bride
- The Raising of Lazarus
- Christ and the Woman of Samaria
- Self Portrait at the Age of 63
- Wide-Eyed Self-Portrait
- Belshazzar’s Feast
- The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
- Two Old Men Disputing
- Philosopher in Meditation
- The Woman Taken in Adultery
- Susannah and the Elders
- The Return of the Prodigal Son
- The Prodigal Son in the Brothel
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Rembrandt
A Tour of the Mauritshuis
- “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer
- “Diogenes looking for an Honest Man” by Caesar van Everdingen
- “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (by Rembrandt) 1632
A Tour of History Paintings
- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
- “The Family of Darius before Alexander” by Paolo Veronese
- “Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez
- “The Third of May 1808″ by Francisco Goya
- The Second of May 1808 – The Charge of the Mamelukes by Francisco de Goya
- “The Fighting Temeraire” by Joseph Mallord William Turner
- “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” by Emanuel Leutze
Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp, c 1636
- “The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776″ by John Trumbull
- “The March to Valley Forge” by William B. T. Trego
- “The Massacre at Chios” by Eugène Delacroix
- “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche
- “Cromwell in Battle of Naseby” by Charles Landseer
- “The Surrender of Breda” by Diego Velázquez
- “Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Death of Marat” by Gioacchino Giuseppe Serangeli after Jacques-Louis David
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp: How Our Muscles Work
- “Oath of the Horatii” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Coronation of Napoleon” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Burning of the Houses of Parliament” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Triumph of Cleopatra” by William Etty
- “Dempsey and Firpo” by George Bellows
- Floreat Etona! by Elizabeth Thompson
- Scotland Forever! by Elizabeth Thompson
- “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov
- Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques-Louis David
- The Election Series by George Caleb Bingham
- “The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar” by John Singleton Copley
- “Watson and the Shark” by John Singleton Copley
- “The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781″ by John Singleton Copley
- “Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci” by Adolph Menzel
- “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt
Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp
“Without atmosphere a painting is nothing.”
Photo Credit: 1)Rembrandt [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons