Painting is an illusion

December 15, 2000

Rembrandt's celebrated painting, The Anatomy of Dr Deijman , has been revealed as a piece of science fiction, writes Tanya Reed.

The 1656 painting, on display at the Hayward Gallery, London as part of the Spectacular Bodies exhibition, shows anatomist Dr Deijman and his assistant dissecting the brain of a man whose abdominal cavity is also exposed.

To reconstruct the scene, Laurence Garey, professor of anatomy at Imperial College, London, and William Schupbach, from the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, worked on an embalmed cadaver in one of the college's anatomy dissecting rooms.

They found Rembrandt had eliminated at least a cubic metre of space between the patient's head and feet while the anatomist holding the falx - the membrane separating the brain's two hemispheres - had twisted it to face the audience and made it appear attached.

While the work looks completely natural, Professor Garey said what was portrayed was physically impossible.

"Rembrandt used enormous creative licence," he said.

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