The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp
On the oak-plank table, the criminal’s body: hanged for armed robbery, squat toes dappled with burnt sienna, muscled legs leading to a stretch of loincloth—interrupting the eye for a second—before the slack mouth resting on bare chest. No neck. The tip of his nose, marble-grey, a bird’s beak peaking from the rust- colored crop of his beard. His face partially shaded, umbra mortis. The skin of his left arm stripped away, revealing muscles, tendons— the physician uses the forceps to pull the meat back, to tug the flexor digitorum superficialis: he holds out his left hand, fingers poised in mid-air, a magician, look, he seems to say, see how it moves. The observers lean in, neatly bearded men in black robes, white lace collars stiff and ruffled. They hover like specters, fascinated by this theater, eyes probing, the human body unshrouded. These men painted in a room the color of parchment, of brown smoke, stone doorways arched, shadowed, sockets in a skull.