Masterpieces of the Golden Age

Rembrandt's anatomy lesson

Masterpiece

Artist Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
Title The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp
Year c.1632
Technique Oil on canvas
Current location Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands

Rembrandt

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, better known by his first name Rembrandt, is the most famous of the Dutch Golden Age painters, and one of the greatest artists of all time. His best known works are his portraits (including many self portraits) and his group portraits. He also created beautiful etchings, often of biblical subjects.

The anatomy lesson

The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp

The Amsterdam surgeon's guild organized an annual anatomy demonstration, aimed at their members, but (paying) visitors were also welcome. They used the body of an executed criminal. In this painting, Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, a well-known surgeon, shows the muscles of an arm to his colleagues.

The anatomy lesson is a group portrait commissioned by the Amsterdam surgeon's guild. As in Rembrandt's other group portraits (e.g. The night watch), we don't see people standing neatly in rows, as is common with group portraits, but a group of people in action. They gaze at the instruction book (in the bottom right corner of the painting), or bend over to see the muscles.

The corpse belonged to Aris Kindt, a notorious Leiden criminal. He had been hanged and his body was made available for scientific research.

The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp is on permanent display in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.