Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Anatomy Lesson of Homo Sylvestris

About a week ago Eric Johnson the great writer that I work with at The Primate Diaries emailed me to tell talk about a post he was going to write and some general ideas he had to send me in a direction for an image.  In this email he sited a few classic paintings that dealt with the history of science included in them was The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn known to most as simply Rembrandt. I jumped at the chance to take on the great painter, as he is a hero of mine as he is for so many artists.  I always wanted to tackle this painting but never had the nerve, now here I was face to face with the opportunity to take one of my favorite paintings and recreate it with Chimpanzees in my way (extremely indulgent).  Well I thought I was taking on Rembrandt but in reality I was taking on the entire concept of chimpanzee centric art with out even knowing it.

When ever beginning an image there is always a level of research that goes in to the subject that I am painting in this case I learned that Tulp was the official City Anatomist, permitted only one public dissection a year. His most impressive work on medicine was his Observationes Medicae published in 1641. The book is complete with descriptions of his work, including 231 cases of disease and death. Some called it the "book of monsters", because Tulp dissected animals brought back from the Dutch East India Company's ships. As a result of the success of his books, Tulp became Mayor of Amsterdam in 1654, a position he held for four terms.

So that first evening after tucking my kids into bed, working on a few rough sketch ideas and after concluding my basic research on Tulp I decided to go down stairs and snuggle up to the book I am reading at the moment. The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll is a fantastic book about the relationship between the author and the chimpanzee residents there that are living out their retirement. Westoll also provides the background history of the chimps lives and what brought them to Fauna Sanctuary that show the utter brutality of human nature. It was here on page 38 the second page that I read only moments after my research of Tulp that his name came up in Andrew Westolls book.  He was describing a short history of the Chimpanzees introduction into the western world and it was here that I learned that it was Tulp who described and first drew a picture of a chimpanzee in his book "The book of monsters." Call it serendipity but this image now became extremely important because I was not only paying tribute to a the great artist Rembrant but to the entire concept of non humane primate art which obviously holds a great level of importance to me.

So now here is that chimp Homo Sylvestris from Angola getting just a little revenge on Tulp and on us all   please enjoy my painting The Anatomy Lesson of Homo Sylvestris

1 comment:

ADW said...

That's one heck of a coincidence. I love it! I would like to see the original Book of Monsters someday, wouldn't you? Anyway, glad you're enjoying the book. I really love yours.