Before There Was Reality T.V. There Was……….Anatomy Lessons?

“Hey honey, what do you want to do this weekend?” “Oh, I definitely want to go see Mrs. Smith dissected. I heard she had some WORK done!” This is a possible discussion between a couple during the Renaissance. (Somewhat kidding here) During that time public dissections were very popular. In fact, you might even purchase admittance to one as a marriage present. Can you imagine? You payed to gain entrance to these dissections per visit or per corpse and they lasted up to a week. Many small dissection theaters were built all over Europe to cater to this public fascination. Since the theaters were made of wood, many did not survive.

Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt Van Rijn
Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt Van Rijn

One such public dissection was captured for posterity. The affair would have been crowded with doctors, lawyers, intellectuals,etc. In other words, if you were important you would be there. The painting is called “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp.” Dr. Nicolaes Tulp was actually a real man who was a member of the local Amsterdam surgeons guild. Dr. Tulp apparently commissioned this painting and chose a young artist in town to render his likeness. You might have heard of him? His name was Rembrandt. Only twenty-six at the time Dr. Tulp chose this young artist probably thinking to do him a favor and give him an artistic break. Dr. Tulp chose well. In the video he narrates “Every Picture Tells a Story” art historian Waldemar Januszczak explains that Dr. Tulp was not his real name. His real name was Claes Pieterszoon. Nicolaes is apparently a more proper version of Claes. Tulp means “tulip.” At this time, tulip mania had broken out in Holland. Apparently Dr. Tulp hoped to cash in on some of the notoriety. Later Dr. Tulp was to go on to be mayor of Amsterdam four times. Ironically, though Tulp hoped to achieve notoriety, he only did so because he became a subject in a painting by Rembrandt. There is a lesson in humility for you.

Also ironic is the fact that even though Dr. Tulp meant himself to be the “star of the show” he is at least rivaled, if not upset by the corpse. We also know his name too. A petty criminal, his name was Adriaan Adriaanszoon, also known as “The Kid.” He was convicted of armed robbery and hanged for stealing a coat. Well, sort of. It was just the “last straw” in a series of criminal acts. The hanging took place on January 16, 1632. The city of Amsterdam permitted only one public dissection per year and it had to be an executed criminal. Adriaanszoon was the lucky model and he gained a notoriety beyond his wildest dreams. He is, however, immortalized as a criminal. His body literally shines a ghostly white and is face is partly in shadow. Perhaps this is to indicate every man is a mixture of good and bad. Or maybe it is to indicate “the shadow of death.”

Dr. Tulp has started the anatomy lesson with the arm, which is probably not the likely place where most anatomy lessons would have begun. The body has apparently already been prepared for dissection. Dr. Tulp’s fingers are pressed together to show that if you lifted the muscle indicated, the fingers would come together. Januszczak notes that in art the ability to paint the body accurately “separates the men from the boys,” and Rembrandt proves himself here to be a master. In the lower right corner of the painting you see an enormous open textbook on anatomy.

Surrounding Dr. Tulp you see a gaggle of doctors. Some of the men are leaning in, observing closely and hanging on to every word of Dr. Tulp. Some of the men seem to be staring off into the distance, maybe a little bored? Two men stare straight out at the viewer. One of those holds a paper, which lists the names of the men in the painting. Most likely everyone paid to be in the portrait. The way it works is the more you pay, the better the position you secure in the painting. This is also how it worked in Rembrandt’s famous portrait “The Night Watch.” Rembrandt has also signed his full name, as opposed to his initials.

As Januszczak points out in the video, there is something missing from this portrait, and that is the audience. Where is the larger audience viewing the autopsy? Simple. The audience is you. Rembrandt cleverly makes you a participant of the painting, not just a viewer. If you notice closely, Dr. Tulp isn’t looking at the men in the painting. His gaze extends out beyond them to the invisible audience. Also, one of the two men who look directly out at the viewer is pointing down at the corpse. This Januszczak says, is to illustrate the fact that death is the inevitable end of every man. So Dr. Tulp got his portrait for posterity and Rembrandt got to make his point. Death IS the end of every man. The only question really is what kind of man have you been? Good or evil? After all, in the end it is only the anatomy of the soul that really counts.





Notorious: Inside The World Of Art Heist

Unlike the theft of money or jewels, cars and other collectibles, the theft of a
singular work by an artistic virtuoso is truly a crime against all of us.

Anthony Amore, Tom Mashberg

Let’s say hypothetically, that you wanted to become an art thief.

You pick your museum of choice. You case the joint. You lay out your plan. You watch the change of the guard. Then you go for the prize.

Here’s the rub: What exactly do you rob? How do you know what you should take?

Well according to Anthony Amore and Tom Mashberg, who have written a book on the subject, the jewel of any museum’s collection is a Rembrandt.

That being said, take note of their warning: “It’s very rare for a Rembrandt thief to gain something valuable from the act….Almost never has a theft brought them riches or happy lives.”

Art theft is a serious crime and it’s never a victimless one as they point out. In fact we all suffer at the loss of an irreplaceable work of a Master. Amore, one of the authors of “Stealing Rembrandts, The Untold Stories Of Notorious Art Heists” knows a little about this as he is the head of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The Gardner Museum, located in Boston, was robbed in 1990 on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day. Two men posing as Police officers knocked on a side door of the museum supposedly in response to a call about a disturbance. The two guards let them in and they were promptly tied up. The thieves then spent the next two hours leisurely robbing the museum, in some cases cutting the canvases from the frames. One of the items they took was Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” It is Rembrandt’s only known seascape. They also stole Rembrandt’s “A Lady and Gentleman in Black” as well as a postage stamp sized self-portrait etching. As Gardner had stipulated in her will that none of the artwork was to be moved, today the empty frames stand as mute testimony to the greed of men. None of the stolen artwork has been recovered.

Art theft is often portrayed as glamorous, but it reality it is far more gritty. Amore and Mashberg describe it as “disorganized crime” often done by petty offenders who are also involved in all sorts of other thievery. It’s not as beautifully orchestrated as it is in films such as “The Thomas Crown Affair.” I also highly doubt the thieves are as good looking as Pierce Brosnan.

Gaugin Brooding WomanIn the book they describe different robberies that have occurred. One example is the robbing of the Worcester Museum in Massachusetts. Upon driving off from the museum during the getaway Gauguin’s painting “Brooding Woman” was placed on top of the car’s luggage rack while the thief stuck his arm out the window to hold it down. One has to wonder if the thieves thought it would be bad luck to have a brooding woman in the car with them. It would remind them too much perhaps of the nagging woman they were going to go home to who would be extremely upset about the stolen artwork now under her bed. He just didn’t want to think about it.

In stealing art, the thieves often quickly find out that the frames are just too #*!* heavy to carry.  In one art heist Rembrandt’s Saint Bartholomew was stolen. Along the way the thief tossed out the original seventeenth century frame. Thrown into a canal it was never recovered. Another amusing, but lucky fact is that many art thieves often pass by works of greater value than the one they are stealing.

In the book there are other interesting facts they bring out about art theft. For example, do you know who has the dubious honor of being the most stolen artist in history? Picasso.

Another interesting fact is that “thieves who rob museums more than once are unusual. Rarer still is the painting that is stolen for a second time.” The exception to this they point out is Rembrandt’s portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III.

Rembrandt's Portrait of Jacob De Gheyn
"The Takeaway Rembrandt": Stolen four times!

Outlandishly it has been stolen four times all from the same museum, the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. It is known as “The Takeaway Rembrandt.” After the third theft and subsequent return the museum bolted the painting to the wall. It did no good. The fourth time the thieves brought a crowbar. The miserable director of the gallery was informed “The Rembrandt is gone again sir.” It was found three years later. It had been place at a railway station “wrapped in paper and placed inside a series of three boxes.” Upon receiving the painting back once again the director wryly remarked: “The temptation is to lock the wretched thing away and put up a color photograph.” The portrait had been a set of two done at the request of two friends: Jacob de Ghen III and Maurits Huygen. As a symbol of their friendship they wanted their portraits painted and whoever died first the surviving friend would get the other’s portrait. The portraits were meant to stay together, but over time they were separated. If only de Ghen knew what an exciting journey his portrait has been on!

Art museums give considerable thought to how artwork is secured to a surface. As Amore and Mashberg point out “stealing art is difficult.” It’s basically done any way it can be. Sometimes even teenagers have been able to carry off a piece, by creating a distraction in one part of the museum while stealing something in another. I personally can’t imagine doing it. To me a museum always seems like such a highly watched environment. Having just been to the St. Louis Art Museum recently my husband set off an alarm by stepping too close to a painting. I also realized I had stepped over a line on the floor I was not supposed to step over. The motives are many for stealing art and thankfully the recovery rate is usually high. Art doesn’t really have “street value” which often leaves the criminals at a loss for how to exactly profit from their heist. You can’t exactly pawn a Rembrandt.

Far away from all of this is the artist himself. I wonder what Rembrandt would think about all the clamoring over his work. As the authors point out “Even those with little background in fine arts- and that includes most criminals- are impressed when standing before a Rembrandt.” In other words you know you are a really great artist when even the dummies realize you are. You also know you are a great artist when people the world over recognize you by your first name.

I recently showed Rembrandt’s “Adam and Eve” etching to a group of people. I asked them if they knew who the artist was. None of them did. When I told them who it was however they let out a collective “Ahh, as in I should have known that!”

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born July 15, 1606 and died October 4, 1669. Eschewing the high money of court painting he led a gritty urban life. He drew constantly immortalizing the common life. He had a particular skill for portraits and painted many as that was where the money was in art in his day. He also drew and painted many self-portraits in a sense making Rembrandt a “household brand.” Unlike some artists he was famous in his day. People knew his name and his face and he had financial success. In the end however he died “grief stricken and barely solvent” and was buried in an unmarked tomb in Amsterdam’s Westerkirk Chruch. He was a prolific artist who left the world some 2,000 works. “Today Dutch and American scholars agree on the following minimum numbers: 300 paintings, 700 drawings, and 80 metal plates from which Rembrandt made etchings.

One of Rembrandt’s most famous pieces is called “Nightwatch” (1642).

Rembrandt's Night Watch

As the author’s note: “It portrays men in charge of guarding Amsterdam by night as a gaggle of dandified and half-cocked musketeers rather than redoubtable sentries.” Ironically it is often this gaggle of dandified and half-cocked musketeers who guard Rembrandt’s art today who are easily duped and outwitted by art thieves. Rembrandt will get the last laugh if “Nightwatch” is carried off. He already predicted it.