Background story of the cover picture
The Story Behind the Cover Picture

Background story of the cover picture

Thomas van Gulik

Department of Surgery, Amsterdam University Medical Centers, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Correspondence to: Thomas van Gulik, MD. Department of Surgery, Amsterdam University Medical Centers, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Email:

Submitted Jul 05, 2020. Accepted for publication Jul 16, 2020.

doi: 10.21037/hbsn-2020-4

The cover image shows the famous Anatomy lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp painted by Rembrandt in Amsterdam, in the year 1632. Rembrandt was commissioned by the Amsterdam Guild of surgeons to paint a picture of the board surgeons while attending an anatomical dissection. Rembrandt was 26 years old at that time and this painting is considered his first masterpiece. The picture shows on the left, the surgeons observing the dissection in awe. The man with the hat is the physician Nicolaes Tulp who served as the university lecturer in anatomy. The corpse was of a criminal who was sentenced to death by hanging and was handed over to the surgeons for dissection after the execution. There is some confusion regarding the anatomical accuracy of the dissected left forearm, as the depicted flexor muscles on first sight seem to originate from the lateral epicondyle. However, the forearm is extended and supinated, correctly exposing the medial epicondyle of the humerus. It is hardly conceivable that an artist like Rembrandt was mistaken about the appearance of the anatomical structures. The painting is on display in the Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis in The Hague, The Netherlands.

For further reading, see: IJpma FFA, van Gulik TM. The Anatomy Lesson of Nicolaes Tulp, painted by Rembrandt in 1632. BJS 2016;103:1408.


Funding: None.


Provenance and Peer Review: This article was commissioned by the editorial office, Hepatobiliary Surgery and Nutrition. The article did not undergo external peer review.

Conflicts of Interest: The author has completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form (available at T van Gulik serves as an unpaid editorial board member of Hepatobiliary Surgery and Nutrition.

Ethical Statement: The author is accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Open Access Statement: This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0), which permits the non-commercial replication and distribution of the article with the strict proviso that no changes or edits are made and the original work is properly cited (including links to both the formal publication through the relevant DOI and the license). See:

Cite this article as: van Gulik T. Background story of the cover picture. Hepatobiliary Surg Nutr 2020;9(4):399. doi: 10.21037/hbsn-2020-4