JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 345
This ungainly title is actually a true statement--even the Tulip “who” rather than “which” part. Rembrandt did suffer from some sort of mental suggestion/annoyance which convinced him that his bones were turning into jelly. (Weird happens: Kurt Goedel thought that he was being poisoned through his food and finally through water.) His symptoms were addressed, and treated (I guess), by the Amsterdam physician Nicolaas Tulp (1593-1674), who saved Rembrandt from himself.
Tulp, which means “tulip” in Dutch, was born Claes Pieterzoon, and was a Leyden-education physician who established a very respected and large practice in Amsterdam. He was additionally very interested in pathological anatomy, and in an early-CSI vein he frequently corresponded his diagnoses through postmortem dissection. In addition to his several published works is his magnum opus, Nicolai Tulpii Amstelredamensis Observationum medicarum libri tres.Cum aeneis figuris (Amsterdam, apud Ludovicum Elzevirium Elzevier, 1641), which contains much of medical interest (including what seems to be a description of diphtheria, a description of a bronchial cast, the description and illustration of the ileocecal valve and kidney stones, and a tapeworm, and the earliest European description of berberi (see Major's Classic Description of Disease)). Additionally he takes on the ideas of monsters, describes a narwhal, and makes the first illustration of a chimpanzee (called an “ouirang atong”) in Europe.
But he most famously survives all this by being the focus, the central figure, the catcher of light, in Rembrandt’s painting “The Anatomy Lesson”, which is really called “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp”, which was painted in 1632. (I wonder how Dr. Tulp lived with this painting in his life for 42 years? ) In any event, it was he who evidently rescued Rembrandt from his dark place, or migraine, or depression—or at least he suggested how he could live his life with whatever he had in his head. Tulp's portrait appears in the frontis to each of his works, but certainly there would be almost no shock of recognition in them; on the other hand, with the Rembrandt, almost everyone recognizes the scene, though very few would now who Dr. Tulp was and what service he performed to the art world.
In one of his very many remarkable letters, Vincent Van Gogh writes to his brother Theo in October 1885 about this painting, offering an insight on color: “Rembrandt's “Lesson in Anatomy,” yes, I was absolutely staggered by that too. Do you remember those flesh colors - it is - de la terre - especially the feet….You know, Frans Hals's flesh colours are also earthy, used here in the sense that you know…”
Check out the website that annotates and includes illustrations of all of the works that Vincent references in his letters—his breadth was really astonishing, as is his memory, and of course his immense appreciation of color—and light-- in general.