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 Rembrandt. ( Harmenszoon van Rijn). 
The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. 1632. 
Oil on canvas. 170 x 217 cm.


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Rembrandt. ( Harmenszoon van Rijn). 
The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. 1632. 
Oil on canvas. 170 x 217 cm

The scene is held on January 16th, 1632, in Waag, (theater of anatomy), in Amsterdam. Rembrandt is 26 years old. The surgeons of Amsterdam made only one public dissection per annum. The body used is that of Aris Kindt, 41 years, condemned to died and hung the same day for robbery. In addition to Nicolas Tulp (1593 - 1674), which holds the grips, the notable present are : Jacob Blok, Hartmann Hartmanszoon, Adraen Slabran, Jacob of Witt, Mathijs Kalkoen, Koolvelt Jacob and Frans van Loenen.
Their names are registered on a sheet which one of them holds. 
The seven people are not doctors but the notable ones seeking to offer themselves a prestigious image as it is often the case at the time baroque. This painting of the young Rembrandt is a work of ordering of the guild of the surgeons whose Tulp is an eminent representative. At that time in Holland the dissection is allowed only in exceptional circumstances. Professor Tulp practices it only once per annum. The winter for a better conservation of the bodies. The influence of the church, catholic or Protestant, at that time, on the scientific work is considerable. In any event It’s in 1648, that Holland becomes an independent State protesting. On this date it’s still under Spanish influence. In 1624, Galileo begins a book which it wishes to call : Dialog on the tides, in which he speaks about the relations of the assumptions of Ptolémée and Copernic with physics about the tides. In 1630, in Rome, the critics of the Roman Catholic church authorize the impression. But they modify the title in : Dialog on the two great systems of the world. The book is published in 1632 in Florence. The year even where this painting is carried out by Rembrandt. In spite of two official authorizations, Galileo is convened in Rome by the Enquiry to answer of a charge of “ serious suspicion of heresy ”. This load rests on a report according to which it had been ordered in Galileo, in 1616, not to discuss the system of Copernic, neither orally, nor in writing. In 1633, Galileo is obliged to abjure and is condemned to the life imprisonment (sorrow commuted to assignment under house arrest). The Dialog is flaring and the sentence pronounced against him must be read publicly in each university. You imagine well that the surgeons are not satisfied with the arm of condemned and in any case an autopsy does not start with there but with a evisceration. Rembrandt must take account of the censure. At that time it is Ambroise Pare (1509-1590), French surgeon, who refers. It is famous in all Europe for its great dexterity and its humanity. He is regarded as the father of the modern surgery. He takes part in several military campaigns during which he acquired a great fame which was worth to him the station of surgeon of the king at Henri II and of his successors, François II, Charles IX and Henri III. Avoided invents the binding of the arteries, which it substitutes for cauterization with red iron, to stop a hemorrhage. He improves the treatment of the fractures, improves the extraction of the projectiles by taking account of the position of wounded and encourages the use of artificial limbs. In time of war the church does not have anything to say, it is the king who decides. Ambroise Paré writes the universal Anatomy of the human body in 1564 and Five Books of surgery in 1571. Works which still refer in 1632. The year 1632 is one year important in the history of medicine. In 1632, the introduction in Europe of an extract of bark of cinchona, which will become later quinine, marks an important progress in the fight against the malaria. The painting is famous for the plays of the glances. Certain notable look at the book in front of the feet of the patient, others the professor, others still the muscles and the tendons, Doctor Tulp, looks at neither the notable ones to him, nor what it does, but something located apart from the part… The various protagonists, appear deeply absorptive by handling of the surgeon. This confers a certain prestige to them what is the required effect. 

The point of view of the spectator is located at the level of the group of the people. 

Way of the glance.
1/ The glance is first of all attracted by the red of the muscles of the arm and the detail of the ligaments and the tendons. 
2/ Then the spectator realizes that there is a group of anybody around the patient.
3/ In one the 3rd time the spectator seeks to identify who is dissected, it goes down again towards the face of the corpse. 
4/ It is only in one last time that the spectator locates the book which is in front of the feet of death, a number of notable look in his direction.

The 4 natural points of interest are used. On the right tension field the 2 natural points of interest are occupied by Doctor Tulp.
The face of the corpse is on the left lower natural point of interest. 
The group of notable is located near the left superior natural point of interest.
The general composition is pyramidal.

3 Triangles. 

Rembrandt uses for his composition 3 triangles which are the triangles of knowledge. On the right Doctor Tulp and his hat form the first triangle. 
The group of notable forms the second triangle on the left. The book with the extreme right-hand side forms the last triangle. The painter voluntarily uses the force of the symbolic system of the figure three. Rembrandt knows the problems of Galileo with the church. 
To be reproduced such a scene on a painted work represents a certain risk. 
It thus leaves the possibility of calling upon the Holy Trinity, and the Holy Spirit in the event of a future lawsuit of the enquiry. 


The glances cross. 4 notable looks with intensity the book located at the foot of the corpse. 1 notable looks at the muscle enclosed in the grip, 1 other looks at the tendons of the hand, Doctor Tulp looks at something towards the outside of the part, which intrigues. 1 notable looks at Tulp. Rembrandt manages to insufflate life and intensity with the various protagonists by giving a direction different taking into consideration each one of them and shown a large psychological smoothness by stressing their intense concentration. The painting will be worth a great fame to him.

Details : 

Nothing misses and all is in place. Rembrandt scrupulously reproduces what he sees. The painting must be credible. 

One can be struck by the great attention and the concentration of the glances.
The painting aims at conferring prestige to the people. 

One distinguishes the words from the upper part of the left page of the book. 
If there exists an illustration she is on the right page. 


The light comes from the left. It is a natural light coming from a window of great dimension located on the left of the scene represented. 
This oblique light acts like a projector and gives even more intensity with what is held in the middle of the part.

Colours : Harmonize between hot colors.

Similar Paintings : 

The Nightwatch. 1642.

The Anatomy Lesson of Joan Deyman. 1656.

Sampling Officials of the Drapers' Guild. 1662.