The Anatomy Lesson

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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. Some of the spectators are various doctors who paid commissions to be included in the painting. The painting is signed in the top-left hand corner Rembrant. f[ecit] 1632. This may be the first instance of Rembrandt signing a painting with his forename (in its original form) as opposed to the monogramme RHL (Rembrant Harmenszoon of Leiden), and is thus a sign of his growing artistic confidence. 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.[1] 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.[citation needed] 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...
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