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October 27, 1962


JAMA. 1962;182(4):491-492. doi:10.1001/jama.1962.03050430165027

Many who are familiar with Rembrandt's masterpiece, the "Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaas Tulp," may have overlooked the medical background and contributions of Dr. Tulp, the anatomy teacher and practicing physician of repute in Amsterdam, not an allegorical figure. As praelector in anatomy at the Surgeons' Guild, he conducted demonstrations in public anatomy in the Theatrum Anatomicum. They were open to the profession and, by invitation, to lay persons. Thus, they were designed to entertain as well as instruct. Dissections were held once a week, but only in midwinter for obvious reasons. The Theatrum Anatomicum where Tulp performed no longer can be seen in Amsterdam, but one can speculate that it was similar to the 17th century anatomical amphitheaters which are extant in Uppsala and Padua.

It is believed that Rembrandt's famous painting was commissioned by the Surgeons' Guild as they had commissioned others on "Schools of Anatomy."1 The