21 de junho de 2011

Rembrandt van Rijn - Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp - 1632
Mauritshuis Museum - The Hague

By the 17th century, anatomy lessons were performed throughout Europe, each winter, on victims of public hangings. At that time, in European cities, the dissection of bodies was only legal if the subject was a male criminal and considered outside of the Church. The dissections were performed with the consent of the city council, and were a means to collect funds for city council meetings and dinners. All council and guild members (association of craftsmen in a particular trade: judges, surgeons, lawyers, etc)  were required to attend and pay an admission fee.
In january 1632, the famous Amsterdam anatomist and lecture Dr. Nicolaes Tulp also known by his famous ”Book of Monsters”performed his second public autopsy in front of seven members of the Guild of Surgeons. Rembrandt van Rijn  (1606-69) was still a young man when he received this important commission from the guild and it was his first group portrait. The subject of the dissection, and center of focus, is a common criminal. The arrangement of the six heads on the left form an arrow pointing to Tulip's right hand and, curiously, the seventh man holds a list of the participants and links Tulip to the group compositionally.

Rembrandt chose the moment when Dr. Tulip dissected the forearm of the corpse to ilustrate the muscle structure. The painting is anatomically incorrect, but Rembrandt focuses instead on displaying psychological intensity. The eager inquisitiveness of the onlookers is striking, as is their proximity to the corpse given the stench that must have accompanied such dissections. Rembrandt's use of chiaroescuro is often compared to Caravaggio although it is unlikely that Rembrandt had seen a painting by him. He probably learned the technique through Dutch artists who visited Italy and had been influenced by Caravaggio. The staged nature of this painting suggests public dissections were considered "performances".

There is also a moral message connecting criminality and sin to dissection, and an implicit warning that death awaits everyone. In 1656 Rembrandt was commisioned to paint another dissection and firmly established this genre.
Source: Wikipedia, Stephan Farthing, net.

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