Dr. Tulp's anatomy lesson by Rembrandt: The third day hypothesis

Arnon Afek*, Tal Friedman, Chen Kugel, Iris Barshack, Doron J. Lurie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

An autopsy was an important event in 17th century Holland. Autopsies were held in an 'anatomy theater' and performed according to a fixed protocol that often took up to 3 days to complete. Of the five group portraits painted by Rembrandt over the course of his career, two were anatomy lessons given by Dr. Tulp and Dr. Deyman. An examination of Rembrandt's painting Dr. Tulp's Anatomy Lesson (1632) and an X-ray image of the painting, as compared to other paintings of anatomy lessons from the same period, reveal interesting differences, such as positioning, and light and shadow. Not only was the autopsy not performed according to the usual protocol, but in this painting Rembrandt created a unique dramatic scene in his effort to tell a story. We suggest that Dr. Tulp and Rembrandt "modified" the painting of Dr. Tulp's anatomy lesson to emphasize Dr. Tulp's position as the greatest anatomist of his era - "Vesalius of Amsterdam," and as a way of demonstrating God's greatness by highlighting the hand as a symbol of the most glorious of God's creations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-392
Number of pages4
JournalIsrael Medical Association Journal
Volume11
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2009

Keywords

  • Anatomy lesson
  • Art
  • Rembrandt

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