Contributed in memory of Dr. Bernard & Mrs. Jeanette Gordon Halperin, a gift from their children
Egbert van Heemskerck, the son of a Haarlem doctor, painted many medical genre scenes throughout his career. Here, his scene of an emergency surgery is rich in pathos and tension. The doctor tends to a patient slumped in a chair, while a woman covers her face in fear or grief. Others wait for care. Vanitas symbols found within the doctor’s quarters pessimistically pronounce the patient’s fate: a skull and femur, and a niche with a skull, a drawing of a bird, and an extinguished candle bell. Heemskerck’s upbringing in a doctor’s household likely accounts for the keen insight with which he rendered this interior, imbued with both accuracy and tense drama. Heemskerck’s painting is a reflection of the rise of, and increasing reliance on, modern scientific knowledge in European society. By showing a scene of the ill-fated man, Heemskerck likely comments on the limits of these new advancements.
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