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Art History’s Best Mustaches: So Many Scholarly ‘Staches in Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson”

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For the penultimate entry in our month-long chronicle of art history’s best mustaches — in honor of male cancer awareness campaign-cum-facial hair contest Movember — we’ve selected a masterpiece that is neither for the squeamish, nor for the ’stache-averse. All eight living figures, and even the solitary dead one, depicted in Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” (1632) sport phenomenal beard-mustache combos, making this quite possibly the most facial hair-saturated work in all of art history.

Dressed in full surgical regalia, Dr. Tulp also sports the most sharply defined facial hairstyle of the group — what we’d describe as something between a ducktail, a perennial, and a “hoke-troika” — while he prods the muscle tissue in the corpse’s forearm. While most of his students appear rapt by the lesson, others — including the one standing upright in the back, and the gent to his right — stare ominously in the direction of the viewer.

The painting, which is in the permanent collection of the Hague’s Mauritshuis museum, portrays the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons‘ January 16, 1632 public dissection, an annual tradition during which anybody could come watch — for a nominal admission fee — as a surgeon picked apart the body of an executed criminal. In this particular case, the dissectee was Aris Kindt, who had been convicted of armed robbery and was sentenced to death by hanging. Dr. Tulp, at the time, was Amsterdam’s official City Anatomist.

Incredibly, Rembrandt was only 26 when he completed this work. Though the painting has been praised for its anatomical accuracy, it is missing one character: the Preparator, who would typically have done the messy work of slicing flesh and pinching tendons for Dr. Tulp, is nowhere to be seen. (Although he too, in all likelihood, had a spectacular mustache.)

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image via Wikipedia.)

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