Art & Design

Written by Justine Aka

A classic work of anatomy art - Can you find the errors?

At only 26 years of age Rembrandt van Rijn painted “the anatomy lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” for the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons. The oil painting on canvas, is displayed at the Royal Picture Gallery “Mauritshuis”, Den Hague, The Netherlands.

The painting shows the annual dissection event in 1632 at which a criminal was dissected. Dr Tulp shows the exposed Flexor Digitorum Superficialis with his right hand, and demonstrates the movement it produces (flexion of the digits) with his left; representing the novelty of functional anatomy in the 17th century! The group of seven men surrounding the dissection table listen and watch in awe.  

There has been much discussion on the anatomical correctness of Rembrandts painting. IJpma et al (2006) summarise this discussion in their article and show a comparison of Rembrandts presentation of Dr Tulps dissection, with the dissection of a male cadaveric forearm at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. The article shows various anatomical faults found within the painting, which however, could partly be due to anatomical variations and functionalities in the dissection process. Can YOU find the errors? You can access a free full text version of the article here.

Rembrandts very famous painting has been used in modern works of art such as the “Lego” picture from 2007.

Reference: IJpma FFA, Graaf v.d. RC, Nicolai JPA, Meek MF. (2006). The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt (1632): A Comparison of the Painting With a Dissected Left Forearm of a Dutch Male Cadaver. J Hand Surg. 31 (A), p882-891.

The Anatomy Lesson Tulp LEGO

“The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”
“The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”
(Image by: Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632, 169, oil on canvas, 5 x 216,5 cm, Mauritshuis, Den Hague.)

Tags: Lego, Rembrandt, Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons, 17th Century, Forearm Anatomy

Please log in or create an account to place comments. It's free and takes only a minute.