Painting “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulpa” by Rembrandt

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Painting Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulpa, 1632
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Painting Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulpa, 1632

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulpa is a painting by the genius of Holland’s Golden Age Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, representing the members of the Amsterdam Naturalists Guild. This is the first large-scale work of the painter, which helped to strengthen his position in the Dutch capital.

The canvas depicts the famous doctor Nicholas Tulp at that time, demonstrating to colleagues the anatomy and physiology of the muscular activity of the human hand. On his head, a wide-brimmed black hat is a sign of belonging to the high class.

The master’s innovation was in the compositional solution. The figures of the seven surgeons, having the same outfit and external resemblance, are painted in profile or half-face and are grouped pyramidal. At the same time, the central character – Nicholas Tulp – is placed somewhat apart from other characters.

Painting “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulpa” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn – the contrast of life and death

Thus, the artist emphasized the privileged position of the celebrity. The author masterfully showed the different reactions of the stage participants to what they see and hear. The doctor sitting next to Tulpa turned his head towards the speaker. Another peers into the contents of the open anatomical atlas, placed by the painter in the lower right corner of the picture.

The expressions on the faces of the participants in the event indicate their interest in the topic. Rembrandt skillfully captured the emotions and dynamics of the characters and thereby conveyed the immobility of a horizontally lying body that occupies most of the canvas. The piece tends to be dark and gray. The foreground is intentionally shaded more, and in contrast, the center of the work appears to be brightly lit. Perfect mastery of the art of transferring light and shadow allowed the genius to clearly distinguish living human faces in the picture and contrast them with the deathly pallor of a corpse.

Title of the painting: “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulpa” (Dutch. De anatomische les van Dr. Nicolaes Tulp).
Author: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669).
Year of writing: 1632
Size: 169.5 x 216.5 cm.
Style: Baroque.
Genre: Group portrait.
Technique: Oil painting.
Material: Canvas.
Location: Royal Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is an outstanding Dutch painter of the 17th century, draftsman, engraver.

His works are distinguished by a limited palette. Emotional expressiveness is built on the richness of the cut-off relationship. All kinds of contrasts of tones, halftones and reflexes, endowed with special tint qualities, are characteristic of the master’s works.

The painting was commissioned. The main artistic task of Rembrandt was to satisfy the wishes of the aristocrats, who wanted to see in their own reflection the social significance and passion for the profession.

The artist managed to masterfully capture the anatomists, combining them with each other and with the viewer, without missing individual portrait features. An examination of the painting using X-rays showed that the hand of the right upper limb of the corpse was painted on later. The left hand has a discrepancy with the size of the body and, apparently, was also written later.

Art critics see a hidden metaphor in the artist’s close attention to the hand: perhaps the author of the work tried to convey to the audience that, just as the tendons bend and unbend the fingers of the hand, divine forces rule the universe and people.

The painting “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulpa” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is a staged scene. It is a masterpiece of virtuosity in its execution, celebrating the guild surgeons and their research activities.

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