Nikolas Tulp

Nikolas Tulp

Dutch surgeon and mayor of Amsterdam.
Date of Birth: 09.10.1593
Country: Netherlands

  1. Biography of Nicholas Tulip
  2. Career and Politics
  3. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulip
  4. Contributions to Medicine and Pharmacy

Biography of Nicholas Tulip

Nicholas Tulip (October 9, 1593 - September 12, 1674) was a Dutch surgeon and mayor of Amsterdam. Born Klaus Pieterszoon, he was the son of a prosperous merchant and an active participant in the public life of Amsterdam. From 1611 to 1614, he studied medicine in Leiden. Upon his return to Amsterdam, he became a respected physician and married Aagje van der Voeg in 1617.

Career and Politics

Tulip, an ambitious young man, took on the surname "Tulip" and changed his name to Nicholas (the correct form of Klaus). He began his political career as the city treasurer and became a member of the Amsterdam magistracy in 1622. The 17th century, known as the Golden Age of the Netherlands, saw Amsterdam as a major naval base and the main center of the Dutch East India Company, one of the largest companies of that period. Tulip's medical and political career reflected the success of his city. Amsterdam's population grew from 30,000 in 1580 to 210,000 in 1650, and Dr. Tulip's position as a physician and politician made him an influential figure in the city. He traveled with a small crew to visit his patients. In 1628, thanks to his connections in the city council, he was appointed the lecturer (president) of the Amsterdam Surgeons' Guild. Sadly, his wife passed away in the same year, leaving him with five young children. He remarried in 1630 to the daughter of the mayor of Outshoorn, who bore him three more children. As part of his duties as a lecturer, he conducted annual anatomical lessons using the bodies of publicly executed criminals. Autopsies were legal in European cities if performed on the bodies of male criminals. The anatomical lessons were held with the consent of the city council, and the funds collected from ticket sales went to the city's fund for meetings and banquets. Attendance and payment of the entrance fee were mandatory for members of the city council and the guild. Prominent physicians from across Europe also attended these lessons to exchange opinions on anatomy and chemical processes in the human body.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulip

After Tulip was appointed as the new lecturer, the guild commissioned a group portrait of its members. Rembrandt, a young man of 26, was given the commission and created the famous painting "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulip." The painting depicts Tulip conducting an anatomy lesson and is currently housed in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. There are many speculations as to why Dr. Tulip began the autopsy with the forearm. One theory suggests that the medical interest of the time focused on the lymphatic system or white veins. There were two works on anatomy dedicated to this topic by William Harvey and Marcello Malpighi. In 1628, during an autopsy of a recently hanged criminal performed under the supervision of French senator Nicholas Peiresc, lymphatic capillaries were discovered. The criminal had eaten a large meal before his execution, and his body was examined just an hour and a half later, making the vessels visible to the naked eye. The event depicted by Rembrandt on the painting dates back to January 16, 1632. The Amsterdam Surgeons' Guild, in which Tulip held the position of city anatomist, allowed only one anatomy lesson per year, and the body for the autopsy had to be that of an executed criminal. The criminal from Rembrandt's painting was named Aris Kindt. Rembrandt later painted another canvas in 1656, depicting Tulip's successor, Dr. Deijman, giving a lecture on anatomy.

Contributions to Medicine and Pharmacy

As the responsible party for pharmacies, Tulip had access to a wide variety of herbs and spices brought by ships from the East. This was a lucrative business for many pharmacies, which numbered 66 in 1633. Shocked by the exorbitant prices of charlatan remedies against the plague (Amsterdam's population significantly decreased after the 1635 plague epidemic), Dr. Tulip decided to change the situation. In 1636, he gathered his friends and together they wrote the first Amsterdam Pharmacopoeia, known as "Pharmacopoea Amstelredamensis." From 1636 onwards, all pharmacists had to pass an exam based on this book in order to open a new pharmacy. This book became the standard and was used as a model in other cities in the Netherlands.

His most famous medical work, "Observationes Medicae," was published in 1641 and reissued in 1652. He dedicated the first edition of the book to his son, who had just finished studying medicine in Leiden, and the second edition was also dedicated to him due to his premature death. The book was written in Latin, a language not understood by the general public, so that they could not read about their own diseases. The book contains a detailed description of Tulip's work, including 231 cases of diseases and deaths. The book is also known as the "book of monsters" because Tulip described autopsies of exotic animals brought to the Netherlands by East India Company ships and included fantastic stories in his work. For example, Jan de Doode, a blacksmith from Amsterdam suffering from severe pain due to kidney stones, sharpened a knife and removed the stones himself because he did not want to become a victim of stone-cutters. These stone-cutters were barbers who practiced such operations, often with fatal outcomes. To everyone's surprise, Jan de Doode survived the surgery and proudly displayed a kidney stone the size of an egg. A painting illustrating this story is housed in the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden.

Tulip also provided detailed descriptions of migraines, the destructive effects of smoking tobacco on the lungs, and demonstrated an understanding of human psychology when describing the placebo effect. He also discovered the valve at the junction of the large and small intestines, known as Tulip's valve. His description of the symptoms of beriberi in Dutch sailors went unnoticed until the cause (a vitamin B1 deficiency) was discovered two hundred years later. Thanks in part to the success of his books, Tulip became the mayor of Amsterdam in 1654 and served four consecutive terms. His son Dirk married Anne Burgh, the daughter of Albert Burgh, another former mayor of Amsterdam who, like Tulip, studied medicine in Leiden in 1614. In 1655, Tulip's daughter Margaretha married Jan Six, who was in charge of family affairs in the magistracy and was a collector of art and a former friend of Rembrandt.

In 1673, Tulip was admitted to the Administrative Committee of the Republic in The Hague, where he later passed away. He was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Joost van den Vondel, a poet of that period, wrote several poems about Tulip, and besides Rembrandt's famous painting, there are several other paintings, marble and bronze statues portraying him.