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The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt van Rijn

June 28, 2010

Rembrandt van Rijn is one of the world’s most famous artists and the most notable Dutch painter.  He has made many art works during his time, but probably the most well-known among his collection is ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,’  This remarkable masterpiece, which was created in 1632, is actually a portrait.  This painting is so exceptional that even Vincent Van Gogh was impressed.

 

Rembrandt was only 26 years old when he made his famous painting.  A few years prior to the creation of the masterpiece, he was first a student of master Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam.  After studying under Lastman, Rembrandt returned to Leiden, where his talent was noticed by an art-loving statesman and an art dealer.  It was the latter who was responsible for commissioning the Dutch artist to make a group portrait with Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

 

During that time, group portraits were very popular.  It became the status symbol of an emerging middle class.  As the middle class became successful financially, they sought to see themselves and their new wealthy lifestyles depicted on paintings.  Most of them did it to show others that they were in the company of the powerful and privileged.  Rich families, famous people and statesmen all commissioned group portraits.

 

One of the most famous people in Amsterdam during that time was Nicolaes Tulp, an anatomist and surgeon.  The painting shows him giving an anatomy lesson to seven individuals: five rich middle-class men and two physicians.  What makes this painting so extraordinary is the trademark of its artist: movement and attention to human detail.  While other group portraits during that time were formal and rigid, Rembrandt’s was casual and showed motion.  Meanwhile, what made Van Gogh stunned was the flesh tones in the painting.  The contrast between the white sheet that covered the body and the pale face of the dead man is astonishing.

 

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp may seem like just a group portrait, but Rembrandt’s talent and skill in painting makes it so much more.

 

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