This portrait, Rembrandt van Rijn’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp is a great visual example of Holland’s firm Protestant stance. Although Rembrandt painted some biblical images in his lifetime, he was known for his portraits and his landscapes.During and after the Thirty Years of War there was a great and distinct separation between the Protestants and the Catholics. In Protestant Holland, where this portrait was created, paintings were not being commission by the church. There was a different, more expressive subject matter being painted. As Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker discuss on their blog post on www.smarthistory.org, Rembrandt ‘reinvented what art can be’. These were not portraits that were being exhibited in a church, but rather in common places, in the living room of the middle class and in secular institutions. He depicted a part of the Baroque period that expressed this reinvention and discovery. This is the first time that people started to take notice in portraits, still lifes and landscapes. It’s interesting that he chose to paint a doctor and his students learning about the anatomy of a cadaver. Science was a very popular subject at the time. As we have learned, many important scientific discoveries were made in the Baroque period and it’s interesting to see how this subject influenced him to paint this portrait. People were anxious to expand their scientific knowledge, showing their scientific curiosity and you can see the excitement on the students’ faces as they learn about this cadaver.
You can observe from the portrait that they are interacting, it’s a natural, realistic setting. You can also see his amazing use of light and shadow that control your eye to look where the artist wants you to look first. You also see the chiaroscuro technique being used in this portrait.
It’s interesting to see how whatever is going in the world has such a huge impact on how artists express themselves and how they are inspired to paint their masterpieces.