Quiz: What is wrong with this famous painting?

On our first day of ophthalmology, we were asked something that has almost nothing to do with eyes except for the fact that one should use them if you have them.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt van Rijn

Knowing famous paintings won’t really further your career in medicine, but they give rise to decent conversation, so I was happy to know this one at least partially.

Do you notice that something is “off” in this paining? It took us a while to get to the correct answer – it is easy to see that something is “not right”, but less easy to verbalise why.

Do you know what it is – and if you do, do you think that Rembrandt did it intentionally? I’m particularly interested in your thoughts on the latter. I’ll edit the post with the answer to the former soon.


9 thoughts on “Quiz: What is wrong with this famous painting?

  1. The dissected “right” hand is actually anatomically the left. Why did Remembrandt do it? Artist’s prerogative? I have no idea!!

    I remember a similar painting I studied in a Perception class, in undergrad which dealt with perspective. It’s Manet’s painting called ” A Bar at the Folies-Bergère”.

    Who is the Bartender looking at? Is that us in the reflection? Fascinating stuff!

  2. I was going to say the same thing as Dr. Mom. It looks to me like the painting oft he dissection represents the extensor compartment of the arm/hand more than the flexor compartment. Did he do it intentionally, or did he just not have a great understanding of the anatomy of the hand. Maybe we are completely wrong?

  3. The story is actually quite interesting. The body on the table is the body of the 41 year old Adriaan Adriaaanszoon, a criminal who had been sentenced to death. Only criminals were allowed to be used for dissections in those times.
    What is little know is that the criminal had already had his hand chopped off before as punishment for stealing! Rembrandt used his imagination to recreate this different scene. This may be the reason it feels like something is wrong when you look at the painting.

    In 2006 in the Dutch Journal of Medicine (NTvG) an article was published describing all the anatomical inaccuracies.

  4. Is the torso to legs proportion is off?! Also, that is quite the scene. It’s too bad we only got yellow smocks in anatomy lab as we might’ve felt smarter with fancy collars and cuffs of lace.

    1. Hah, the proportion might be off, although as he was a criminal it is possible that Rembrandt willfully gave him an awkward posture.
      As for collars and cuffs – I’ll pass. I’ve had too many body bits land on me during dissection. I’ll keep my fancy clothes for fancy situations. Although, granted, we might have more respect for dissection if it were more of a formal event.

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