Rembrandt's anatomy lessons

Research output: ResearchDoctoral Thesis



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It is well known that the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was involved with Holland's anatomical realm. It is also widely known that the Dutch anatomy theatres made a dramatic spectacle of death, as conveyed by the curiosities, artworks and public dissections staged there. However, few scholars have examined the extent to which Rembrandt's anatomical experiences shaped aspects of his artistic development, particularly his approach to the subject of bodily mortality. This research investigates this issue through an analysis of selected artworks. The obvious starting point for this investigation is Rembrandt's portrait of The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Examination of this work reveals Rembrandt's use of many formal and symbolic conventions derived from anatomical imagery, which he applied to his artwork in interesting and innovative ways. It also shows how Rembrandt used his firsthand experience in anatomical dissections to depict the mortality of the body in an incredibly direct and physically engaging way. Finally, it demonstrates how Rembrandt integrated the principal theological and moral concerns of Dutch anatomical culture into his work, to highlight a very prominent issue of the time: the transience of earthly life. This research will furthermore reveal how Rembrandt continued to apply these strategies to other artworks produced over his career, many of which were not explicitly concerned with anatomical subject matter. Studied in chronological order, these works include The Descent from the Cross, The Sacrifice of Isaac, Self-Portrait with Dead Bittern, the Slaughtered Ox paintings, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Joan Deyman, the Lucretia images, and a number of selfportraits and portraits.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
StateUnpublished - 2010

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