By Maaike Bleeker
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Extra resources for Anatomy live : performance and the operating theatre
The cooperation between judges and anatomists is extensively described by Ferrari (1987). See Carlino (1999): ‘The body had to be someone who had been condemned to death (…) preferably a youthful body, in good condition, and of strong musculature, such as to permit a successful demonstration, the moral quality of the body had to be evaluated at the same time. Criminals had to be found guilty in a criminal court. Hanging was preferred, so the body was not disfigured by torture, punishment, mutilation or execution’ (p.
Sebald reflects on Rembrandt ’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp. Viewing the painting at the Mauritshuis, he writes, We are standing precisely where those who were present at the dissection in the Waaggebouw stood, and we believe that we see what they saw then: in the foreground, the greenish, prone body of Aris Kindt, his neck broken and his chest risen terribly in rigor mortis. (Sebald, 2002, p. 13) Sebald’s first observation about the painting is a familiar one. Kindt was a thief, and the use of his body for this anatomical demonstration constituted part of the sentence he suffered for his crime.
27Architecturally, anatomical theatres were designed after typical Renaissance stages – round stages and gradually ascending seats – enabling the audience to literally gaze into the cadaver from a high angle. 28 Attributes like skeletons and Vanitas symbols decorated the open space, underscoring the moralistic intentions of the public anatomy lesson. It was not uncommon for a banquet, a concert, or other performances to adorn dissections, contributing to an event that lasted up to several days.