Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632)

This is an altogether more sombre depiction of an anatomy lesson. It is a didactic work that, in the tradition of the Renaissance Anatomy Theatres, opened the corpses of condemned criminals to the public. The idea of sacrifice and punishment – from the scaffold to the anatomical slab – is explored to reveal that this painting, far from anatomically accurate as its realistic style would suggest, is in fact a constructed dramaturgy that, to produce the required meaning for its spectator at the time, enfolds complex ideas surrounding power, punishment and the role of anatomy at the time in opening the body as a book written by God.

Francis Barker’s The Tremulous Private Body: Essays on Subjection analyses this painting in detail. This nexus of corpse/criminal/sacrifice is reiterated today in the Visible Human Project (