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The Anatomy Lesson

Cover of The Anatomy Lesson

The Anatomy Lesson

A Novel
Set in one day in 1632, The Anatomy Lesson is a stunning portrayal of Golden Age Amsterdam and a brilliantly imagined back-story to Rembrandt's first great work of art. Told from several points of...
Set in one day in 1632, The Anatomy Lesson is a stunning portrayal of Golden Age Amsterdam and a brilliantly imagined back-story to Rembrandt's first great work of art. Told from several points of...
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Description-
  • Set in one day in 1632, The Anatomy Lesson is a stunning portrayal of Golden Age Amsterdam and a brilliantly imagined back-story to Rembrandt's first great work of art. Told from several points of view, ranging from a curio dealer who collects bodies for the city's chief anatomist to philosopher Rene Descartes, the novel opens on the morning of the medical dissection that is to be recorded by the twenty-six-year-old artist from Leiden who has yet to attach his famous signature to a painting.

    As the story builds to its dramatic and inevitable conclusion, the events that transpire throughout the day sway Rembrandt to make fundamental changes to his initial composition. These changes will remain mysteries for centuries until a young art historian closely examines the painting in the twenty-first century, and makes surprising discoveries about the painter, his process, and his genius for capturing enduring truths about human nature in a single moment.
Excerpts-
  • From the book

    IHanging Day

    THE BODY

    At the first toll of the Westerkerk bell Adriaen Adriaenszoon bolts awake in a dank stone jail inside Amsterdam's town hall. He is shivering and sweating at the same time. Shivering because winter gnaws through his meager leather jerkin, sweating because of the nightmare out of which he's just awakened.

    What he remembers is no more than an assemblage of symbols--­a dog, a wall made of doors, an old woman with a pail full of sand--­but fear is pounding through him insistently, demanding he return to sleep to see out the dream. There is the promise of solace through one of those doors, and a bed to lie on, something tells him. But his eyes will not close again. His other senses are already registering the day.

    Horse's hooves tromp in the puddles somewhere nearby. There's a whinny and the sound of clacking steel on cobblestones. The street, which he can see only through the tiny window, is glistening from last night's downpour. The air smells of mineral soil, sweat, and piss.

    He crosses himself before remembering where he is, then glances around nervously in hopes that no guards have seen this. He presses his callused palm through his coarse hair and slumps against the cold wall. There's only his cell mate, Joep van de Gheyn, the fishmonger killer, still asleep on the plank against his own wall. Aris wipes his sweat from his brow with his left hand, then rubs the stump over its bloody bandages, stifling the throbbing of the limb, which pulses with every heartbeat. "That's all right now. Easy there," he says, massaging the limb.

    Hearing the bells ringing out the final chimes of the morning hour, he slaps himself to full wakefulness. This is his last day living. Each time the bells ring he's one step closer to the gallows.

    #

    Outside, there's a festive feeling in the frigid air. Damp and cold as it is, with clouds that hang so low they form a ceiling over the city's tile rooftops, there's still a raw excitement that pulses like a current through Amsterdam's quiet canals and byways. Some would call it bloodlust.

    The streets echo with silence, hollow and expectant, like an empty tankard waiting to be filled. As dawn starts to creep across the water and the wharves from the swampy eastern marshlands, workers from the docks arrive with wood planks to build the hangman's scaffold. They drop the boards like pieces of a coffin on the square and the hammering begins. Nearby, vendors are setting up their stalls to sell delftware, wool mittens, or fresh-­baked bread to all who'll come to gawp.

    Tacked to the town hall door is the justice day schedule:

    • R. Pijnaker, age fifteen, will receive a birching for willfully stealing from a tavern keeper's till.

    • Brothel madam S. Zeedijk shall be beaten upon her neck with a rolling pin for general lewdness, moral corruption, and running a house of debauchery.

    • Three burglary conspirators, R. Tolbeit, A. Schellekamp, and F. Knipsheer, to be flogged and branded with the Amsterdam A on their chests before being banished from the city for their brazen attempt to break into a diamond cutter's shop.

    • A confined convict H. Peeters shall be whipped and marked with burning spears for his violation of confinement and other evil acts before his lifelong imprisonment is renewed.

    • German convict E. Eisenstein caught smoking in the rasp house and, when scolded, cursed and spit at his jailors, shall have an ear sliced off. He will return to the rasp house to work the twelve-­blade saws cutting brazilwood for the dye works until his hands are as good as his ears.

    • The hanging of J....

About the Author-
  • NINA SIEGAL received her MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is the recipient of the Jack Leggett Fellowship from Iowa, a Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing, MacDowell Colony Fellowships, and other grants and awards. She has covered fine art and culture for The New York Times, Bloomberg News, the International Herald Tribune, W, Art in America, and many other publications.

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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