The Anatomist’s Hat

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp; Rembrandt van Rijn 1632

The Anatomist’s Hat

after Rembrandt’s ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp’

It is a cold January in Amsterdam, 1632. Seven bearded surgeons stand in the weigh-house at Nieuwmarkt. They gaze at the body of Adriaen het Kint who lies on a wooden slab in front of them. Physician Tulp, marked out by his wide-brimmed black hat, demonstrates to those assembled.

The Anatomist’s voice, low and sombre, forces the surgeons to crane their white-ruffed necks. My easel is set on the left and towards the dead man’s feet. Dr Tulp moves his scalpel like an extended finger as he parts the man’s skin, subcutaneous fat and fascia, to reveal the muscles and tendons beneath.

Rotting flesh pollutes the air. I breathe in through my mouth and exhale a rolling mist. The composition is set, body centre stage; waxen skin, smalt-blue lips and blood clotted like rust.  Forceps held in his right hand, Dr Tulp proceeds to talk in tongues: pronator teres, palmaris longus, flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris. The words fall from his lips like pearls scattered amongst swine.

Winter sun fades and candles gutter. The criminal’s arm appears to beckon. I feel my own hand tighten in response. The work progresses assuredly. Paint applied to canvas layer on layer as the man’s body is stripped back just as carefully, before being dumped in the drink.

Copyright 2013 Eliot North


I love Rembrandt, I love anatomy.

Anyone visiting Amsterdam should definitely check out Rembrandt’s House. He was a hoarder of cool things and it is a real gem of a museum. Probably my favourite museum in Amsterdam.

I wish I’d seen Body Worlds whilst it was touring and came to London….. one day!