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The praelectors of anatomy in Amsterdam held a prominent role in Dutch society. Nicolaes Tulp, (9 October 1593 – 12 September 1674), the fourth child of an Amsterdam merchant, was originally named Nicolaes Pieterszoon, also known as Claes Pieterszoon, which “was latinized to Nicolaus Petraeus, the name he used when he started his medical studies in Leiden, and the name on his medical school dissertation.” “His most notable contributions to clinical neurology were probably his description and depiction of spina bifida and the ostensible first description (in 1641/2) of the “cluster headache,” later known as “Horton’s headache,” consisting of brief, recurrent, unilateral pain occurring in clusters and involving the temple, eye, and neck: (sometinies also known as “vascular headache” or “histamine cephalgia”)…

Additionally, the scene being depicted – a “lesson” on anatomy by dissection – alone is expressive of Dutch progressivism and the appetite for expansion of economic, intellectual, and ethical attitudes of the Republic to fully splice any undertones during their time in the Holy Roman Empire.The practice of dissection in Amsterdam, prior to the Republic (but, also, in Rembrandt’s day), had questionable moral gray area with the clergy – Da Vinci had to hide his dissections. Tulp was commissioned by the Guild of Surgeons at Amsterdam in 1632.Since it’s display, it has provoked centuries of discussion over Rembrandt’s artistic decision to reject the traditional manner and composition of 17th century Dutch guild portraiture – especially dissection scenes – for a revolutionary and visceral style through compounding allusive narrative elements reinforced with theatric qualities that have made this scene, a dissection first and foremost, historically singular for its dynamism and paradoxical mystery that’s permeated more than 380 years of discourse.This fostered his appointment to the office of anatomical “praelector” of the Surgeon’s Guild in 1628; a position he held for 23 years, which required him to lecture on anatomy and surgery to the apprentice surgeons and to offer public commentary on dissections… During a plague epidemic in 1635, three years after the dissection scene immortalized by Rembrandt, he compiled a pharmacopoeia for apothecaries.

His most important medical experiences were first published in three volumes in 1641 and enlarged to include a fourth volume in 1652, with later editions published in Amsterdam (16) and Leiden (1716).The Netherlands in the 17th century was rather progressive in its model of government, its social classes, and the prevalence of religious tolerance – comparatively speaking.Since the formation of the Dutch Republic in 1581, the Netherlands experienced the emergence of a national and cultural identity, of which, religious freedom and open trade were highly valued.The four volumes contain over 200 case histories, including some original contributions to neurology, ophthalmology, and even tropical medicine with an early clinical description of beriberi (Thyssen, 1929; Jarcho. Centuries before vitamin B1 deficiency was suspected in “polyneuritis.” (polyneuropathy in modern parlance)…Tulp’s contributions to anatomy are less known, although the ileocecal valve of the intestines bears his name and is still listed in dictionaries as the “valve of Tulpius,” and he was the first to find the lacteal vessels in man (already described in the dog by Ga.sparo Aselli).” (July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669); two distinguished individuals that were equally impressive and significantly accomplished in their individual fields. Tulp made Rembrandt’s acquaintance through being the father-in-law to Jan Six, one of Rembrandt’s chief patrons and close friends. Tulp was possibly an intimate friend of Rembrandt’s or (at the very least) an object of admiration for the care he took in this commission.Interestingly, “when it was finished, five persons on the painting had died as a consequence of the plague epidemic,” but their image was nevertheless persevered – in addition to their accomplishments and title.