The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp – Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632
Rembrandt was only twenty-five when he was asked to paint the portraits of the Amsterdam surgeons. The portrait was commissioned for the anatomy lesson given by Dr Nicolaes Tulp in January 1632.
Dr. Nicolaes Tulp was appointed a professor of the Amsterdam Anatomy Guild in 1628. One of the responsibilities of this position was to deliver a yearly public lecture on some aspect of human anatomy. The lecture in 1632 occurred on 16 January, and this is the scene that Rembrandt depicts in paint in ‘The Anatomy of Lesson of Dr. Tulp’.
This is a more complicated composition than it at first appears. Understandably, the focal point of the image is Dr. Tulp, the doctor who is shown displaying the flexors of the cadaver’s left arm. Rembrandt notes the doctor’s significance by showing him as the only person who wears a hat. Seven colleagues surround Dr. Tulp, and they look in a variety of directions—some gaze at the cadaver, some stare at the lecturer, and some peek directly at the viewer. Each face displays a facial expression that is deeply personal and psychological.
In this group portrait, the young painter displayed his legendary technique and his great talent for painting lifelike portraits.
The compositionally innovative, and deeply psychological painting launched Rembrandt to fame and wealth and influenced generations of artists to come.