Category Archives: Talks

The Lord – Lieutenant of South Yorkshire Mr Andrew Coombe 1st April 2018

Probus this week enjoyed an enter­tain­ing and inform­at­ive talk by the Lord — Lieutenant of South Yorkshire former soli­citor and account­ant Andrew Coombe. He was born in Sheffield into the Spear and Jackson family went to Wellington School fol­low­ing which he bypassed uni­ver­sity and trained as an account­ant at Cooper Brothers (now PWC ) in Sheffield. After an invit­a­tion joined Keeble Hawsons and retrained as a soli­citor spe­cial­ising in the cor­por­ate law arena.

Following retire­ment in addi­tion to his extens­ive char­it­able works, he stood as  High Sheriff ofSouth Yorkshire in 2011 – 2012. After this pres­ti­gi­ous role, he was look­ing for­ward to having more time for his family and hob­bies. However, in early 2015 he received, from Downing Street, a letter invit­ing him to apply for the post of Lord – Lieutenant  and was induc­ted into role in April 2015 for a term until his retire­ment from the post on the date of his 75th birth­day, at the time of his visit this left 30 months remain­ing.

Whilst the pos­i­tion dates back to the 1500’s he informed us that the role was and remains little under­stood and one of his aspir­a­tions is to get greater under­stand­ing across the whole of the South Yorkshire region. Andrew did not go into the post entirely blind, so to speak, as he had stood as a Deputy for 20 years prior to his induc­tion.

We were told that the Lord – Lieutenant stands as a rep­res­ent­at­ive of the Queen and wider Royal family and is unpaid and non-political. Whilst unpaid there is an ele­ment of repay­ment of expenses, how­ever,  the incum­bent has to provide ele­ments of the pos­i­tions formal attire this being as a Major General incor­por­at­ing a cere­mo­nial sword, hand made in Sheffield, sashes, and medals.

The role requires con­sid­er­able com­mit­ment with the Lieutenant attend­ing 400–500 events in any one year although some but by no means the major­ity being under­taken by the Deputy Lieutenants of which there are some 40 at the present time with some 35% being women and coming from across a wide range of eth­ni­cit­ies.

The Lieutenant is also sup­por­ted by an office in Barnsley where his PA sits with others and runs his diary and assists with the organ­isa­tion of royal visits four of which have already been com­pleted this year. In addi­tion, the post holder has respons­ib­il­ity for award­ing hon­ours and Royal Awards for both Citizenship and Enterprise and hopes to raise the pro­file of  South Yorkshire within the wider busi­ness com­munity.

Mr Coombe is also keen that through­out his tenure com­munity cohe­sion can be improved this being done via meet­ings with local groups across the social spec­trum pro­mot­ing con­tacts and cre­at­ing an envir­on­ment for cross-culture con­tacts and under­stand­ing of dif­fer­ent social mores. He is also involved in visits to schools across the region explain­ing his role and also has an interest in Cadet and Scout groups and the bene­fit the mem­ber­ship can have on indi­vidual mem­bers some of whom have dif­fi­cult social and eco­nomic back­grounds.

Mr Coombe has obvi­ously thrown him­self into what is a demand­ing but reward­ing pos­i­tion with a vigour that I sus­pect not many of us share and is I believe a great ambas­sador for the region and the post of Lord- Lieutenant about which we are all now much better informed.

Another excel­lent and enlight­en­ing talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fracking – Fact and Fiction —   Roger Vernon — 25th March 2019

Energy con­sump­tion is ever increas­ing to keep up with the demands of a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. Many believe the increased demand could be met by the extrac­tion of shale gas through the pro­cess of frack­ing which is a tech­nique to recover gas and oil from shale rock. Drilling com­pan­ies have estim­ated that tril­lions of cubic feet of shale gas lay beneath us await­ing extrac­tion.  However, there is a great deal of public hos­til­ity towards the pro­cess of frack­ing and protests have delayed pro­gress on many drilling sights. Clearly we need more gas to meet our grow­ing require­ments and cur­rently we must import sup­plies from USA , Norway, Middle East and others.

Shale is a simple clay based rock con­tain­ing molecules of gas and oil. A short video clip was played illus­trat­ing how easily a piece of shale rock could be set on fire to show its burn­ing qual­it­ies. To release the gas and oil molecules , the pro­cess of frack­ing is used which involves drilling ver­tic­ally into the earth to the strata of shale rock and then gradu­ally chan­ging the dir­ec­tion of the drill to bore hori­zont­ally.  A mix­ture of water, sand and chem­ic­als is dir­ec­ted under high pres­sure into the rock . The pres­sure opens up fis­sures in the rock which are held open by the sand.  The pro­cess is reversed and water now dirty flows to the sur­face fol­lowed by oil and gas which are sep­ar­ated and trans­por­ted away. The recov­ery of the gas takes place over a lengthy period.

Reserves of shale gas have been iden­ti­fied in large swathes of the UK par­tic­u­larly in north­ern England. More than 100 licences have been awar­ded by the gov­ern­ment allow­ing firms to explore for gas and oil.  Planning per­mis­sion must be received from the rel­ev­ant local coun­cil before pro­duc­tion can pro­ceed.. Here is where the dis­putes arise with organ­ised protest. The com­pany Cuadrilla was gran­ted a licence to drill and extract gas and oil near Blackpool but were forced to sus­pend pro­duc­tion after earth­quakes of 1.5 and 2.2 mag­nitude  on the Richter scale hit the area. It was deemed “ highly prob­able “ that the tremors were caused by the frack­ing.  Using the government’s “ traffic light system “ for frack­ing , pump­ing has to pro­ceed at a reduced rate after tremors are exper­i­enced below 0.5 and stop for 18 hours after a tremor of 0.5 or over.

The risks of earth­quakes , noise and water pol­lu­tion are major con­cerns to the public and this fear has escal­ated into mass protest, ham­per­ing and stop­ping the pro­gress of  drilling and extrac­tion of shale gas.. However, the prob­lem remains — as the pop­u­la­tion increases the demand for gas grows. Over 80% of the UK has access to gas and over 45% of elec­tri­city is gen­er­ated by using gas.. The irony is that the very people who are protest­ing are most likely users of gas.  However, the threat to the envir­on­ment is real and cannot be under estim­ated , par­tic­u­larly when using a pro­cess and tech­no­logy which are largely new and untried in this coun­try. The shale gas industry may be strug­gling in the UK but in the USA it is boom­ing and a net exporter.  There the pro­cess is long estab­lished ori­gin­at­ing in Oklahoma in 1949 and a fur­ther major advant­age is that the drilling and pro­duc­tion occurs in vast open spaces away from the popu­lace. A luxury we do not have.

These are inter­est­ing times.   The pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing – we need more energy.  Roger gave us a most inter­est­ing talk giving us the facts and con­front­ing the myths which sur­round frack­ing.

Britain & Germany: The War at Sea 1914–18, Part II — Peter Stubbs — 18th March 2019

We all knew how it would finish, of course, but Peter Stubbs kept us enthralled to the very end of the second part of his talk on the War at Sea, 1914 to 1918.

Peter briefly recapped on his pre­vi­ous week’s talk, when we left the British Navy and the British public in good spir­its fol­low­ing the anni­hil­a­tion of Von Spee’s squad­ron in the South Atlantic in December 1914. “Britannia ruled the waves again, but not for long,” he told us.

Only eight days later, at 9am on December 16 and without any warn­ing whatever, high explos­ive shells smashed into houses, shops and other prop­er­ties in Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool.”

Admiral Franz Hipper had man­aged to leave har­bour in Germany and cross the North Sea undetec­ted. The British Admiralty had cracked German naval codes and warned the fleet of the Germany move­ment, but Admiral David Beatty failed to inter­cept either of Hipper’s squad­rons, in part due to poor vis­ib­il­ity in the North Sea and in part to sloppy sig­nalling by his flag officer.

A post-Scarborough recruit­ment poster. 

 

Only Hartlepool could have been said to be a legit­im­ate target with its dock­yard and factor­ies. In all 86 people were killed and 443 injured. Worst hit were the Bennett family in Wykeham Street, Scarborough. Of seven family mem­bers, four were killed.

The British public was out­raged. How could the largest and most power­ful navy in the world have failed to pro­tect them? But it was also a pro­pa­ganda coup for Britain. Recruiting in the army and navy shot up, helped by dra­matic poster advert­ising.

Another recruitmnent poster, show­ing the wrecked house in Wykeham Street, Scarborough.

There was a par­tial response nine days later, on Christmas Day, when Britain inflic­ted the first ever war damage in naval his­tory by air power. Merchant ships had been adap­ted with hangars on deck for sea­planes, with hoists to lift the planes in and out of the water. When the ships got close enough to the German coast seven sea­planes were launched and car­ried out a daring bomb­ing raid on the Zeppelin hangars at Cuxhaven.

Further – and more sig­ni­fic­ant – pay­back came a month later at the Battle of Dogger Bank, when Beatty’s battle cruis­ers con­fron­ted Admiral Hipper, who had led the bom­bard­ment of Scarborough. Hipper came out of his home waters with three battle cruis­ers, three lights cruis­ers and two flo­til­las of des­troy­ers.

The British knew they were coming,” Peter explained. “They had obtained the German naval codes thanks to the bril­liance of code break­ing staff in Room 40 at the Admiralty. Admiral Beatty was aler­ted, and set off south from Rosyth to inter­cept Hipper.” The British ships, all built between 1909 and 1913, were faster than the German oppos­i­tion, and out­gunned them.

Admiral David Beatty — later the first Earl Beatty.

As soon as Hipper’s ship was in range, Beatty sig­nalled to his ships ‘Open fire and engage the enemy.’ It was the first clash between modern battle cruis­ers in the north­ern hemi­sphere.”

Meanwhile, with Britain now at war with Turkey, the Admiralty revis­ited earlier con­tin­gency plans for a joint naval and mil­it­ary attack on the Dardanelles. It was a haz­ard­ous plan. The nar­rows were less than a mile wide and lined with forts and gun emplace­ments, making it impossible for the navy to ‘stand off’ at a dis­tance and attack out of range of the land based guns. There were also mines laid across the straits.

HMS Lion, Admiral Beatty’s flag­ship.

Five allied ships were lost and three badly dam­aged, and in all 700 British and French sail­ors were lost, with noth­ing achieved.

 

Back in the North Sea, both sides con­tin­ued to play cat and mouse, with mixed res­ults. After one par­tic­u­larly bruis­ing encounter, when his flag­ship Lion was hit twice in five minutes, Beatty reportedly said to his officers: “There seems to be some­thing wrong with our bloody ships today. As Peter explained: “He was quite wrong. What he should have said was ‘there seems to be some­thing wrong with our bloody officers today!’”

However, Britain still had com­mand of the seas. A block­ade remained in full force pre­vent­ing much needed sup­plies from reach­ing Germany. The Battle of Jutland in July 1916 was effect­ively the end of the sur­face war.

Admiral Franz Hipper.

But the peril of Germany’s sub­mar­ine fleet was ever present. Relations between Germany and the United States had hit rock bottom with the sink­ing of the Lusitania in May 2015. The Lusitania and her two sister ships were the largest pas­sen­ger liners in the world. Although she nor­mally trav­elled at 25 knots, too fast to be at risk from tor­pedo attack, as she approached the Irish coast she ran into a bank of fog and was forced to reduce speed.

One tor­pedo was suf­fi­cient. It was fol­lowed by a large explo­sion on the ship, prob­ably some of the explos­ives and arma­ments she was allegedly car­ry­ing, and within 18 minutes she had sunk with the loss of 1,200 pas­sen­gers, among them 126 US cit­izens.

The sink­ing did not bring the US into the war, but it had a sig­ni­fic­ant effect on the atti­tude of the US gov­ern­ment and public opin­ion. In Germany, mean­while, the sink­ing was cel­eb­rated and school­chil­dren were given a day’s hol­i­day.

The unres­tric­ted German sub­mar­ine offens­ive which even­tu­ally brought America into the war was ulti­mately defeated by the convoy system, and this reversal along with a lack of land pro­gress on the west­ern front was bring­ing Germany to its knees. But although the sub­mar­ine war had been won, the damage from the U-boat offens­ive was immense; during 51 months of war, German sub­mar­ines had sunk 5,282 British, allied and neut­ral mer­chant ships.

A peace­ful Scapa Flow today — pic­ture by Graham Snowdon.

On 21st November 1918 more than 70 ships of the German High Seas Fleet suffered the ulti­mate humi­li­ation of sur­ren­der­ing to 370 escort­ing ships of the allied navies and being escor­ted to Scapa Flow to be interned there. More than 120 sub­mar­ines were also taken into intern­ment at Harwich. In an ironic twist, seven months later the cap­tured German fleet at Scapa was scuttled by its own crews to avoid the ships being taken into use by the British navy.

Peter con­cluded by telling us: “As we all know, the peace was a rel­at­ively short one last­ing only 20 years. Although appar­ently for­got­ten — or at least little men­tioned — by our modern day politi­cians, the two world wars were the real and most import­ant reason for the set­ting up of the European Community and for coun­tries want­ing to be mem­bers of it. It seems that our politi­cians now think that another European war is impossible.”

Britain & Germany – War at sea 1914–1918 Pt1 — Peter Stubbs — 11 March 2019

Peter Stubbs is a retired soli­citor who has developed an interest in naval his­tory, he has given 2 talks pre­vi­ously to the Club.  The his­tory of the British Navy during WW1 is a big sub­ject and his talk is in two parts and this report refers to the first sec­tion.

Until the 16th cen­tury war­ships had been essen­tially for trans­port­ing sol­diers for hand to hand fight­ing. Now wooden ships with gun ports and muzzle loaded guns on 3 decks were built and 250 years later in the time of HMS Victory, war­ships had changed little.  95 years later HMS Warrior was launched with iron clad­ding to a timber frame with steam engines but still with 3 masts and muzzle loaded guns.  The British Navy was com­pla­cent and set in its ways.  In 1900 it was like a rich old man, swollen with self-confidence with memor­ies of past glor­ies and little regard for modern trends.  There was much emphasis on smart­ness and little on train­ing.

In 1889 the German Chancellor Bismark stated “I see England as an old and tra­di­tional ally.  No dif­fer­ence exists between England and Germany”.  In England, France was the tra­di­tional enemy.  The Kaiser was very jeal­ous of Britain’s dom­in­ance of the seas and in 1897 he made Tirpitz Secretary of State of the Imperial Navy.  He was a bril­liant admin­is­trator and began to increase the German Navy by 38 battle­ships, 20 armoured cruis­ers and 38 light cruis­ers.  The British Navy at this time had over 900 ships.

In 1904 Admiral John Fisher became 1st Sea Lord.  He recog­nised the threat the new German naval policy rep­res­en­ted and thought that war was inev­it­able.  He removed 150 obsol­ete ships from the fleet and planned for modern replace­ments.  He cham­pioned the devel­op­ment of the sub­mar­ine and inven­ted the concept of the modern des­troyer.  He was the ori­gin­ator of the Dreadnought battle­ship.  No other ship could com­pete with her and Britain built 35 of them.  Seeing the Dreadnought, Germany halted con­struc­tion of its ships and ordered new designs to be built.  The Battleship Race was on.

HMS Dreadnought 1906

The British Navy went to war on 4th August 1914 with 609 fight­ing ships includ­ing 29 Dreadnoughts and battle cruis­ers to Germany’s 17 equi­val­ents.  It soon became clear that sea power must now con­tend with mines, tor­pedoes and sub­mar­ines.

At this time 60% of our food and other com­mod­it­ies were impor­ted.  The object­ive of the German Grand Fleet was to break out from the North Sea and to attack Britain’s mer­chant ship­ping.  The Grand Fleet under Admiral Jellicoe was sta­tioned at Scapa Flow to pre­vent this.  Britain’s block­ade covered the whole of the west­ern approaches and applied to all ships bound for Germany.  This had an ever more dam­aging effect on German pro­duc­tion and living stand­ards.

At this early stage in the war inter-ship com­mu­nic­a­tion was poor.  In the battle of Heligoland Bight it was repor­ted “Our battle cruis­ers were scattered by and made viol­ent attempts to sink a squad­ron of our own sub­mar­ines.  Our light cruis­ers sent in to sup­port were in two cases thought to be enemy ships by our des­troy­ers and in another case two light cruis­ers chased two tor­pedo boats each sup­pos­ing the other to be the enemy.”  Despite all this Commodore Tyrett won the battle and this had a sig­ni­fic­ant effect on future German policy that became more cau­tious.

Peter’s talk covered sev­eral naval battles in the south­ern hemi­sphere includ­ing the Battle of Port Stanley and the sink­ing of the Scharnhorst and the Gneisanau.  The second part of the talk will be more focused on war in the north­ern hemi­sphere.

We eagerly await Peter’s con­clud­ing talk in what is an intriguing insight into our recent his­tory that few of us have much know­ledge of.

 

 

The Princess and the Saw” Simon Barclay 4th March 2019

                                      

 

Our speaker this week, Simon Barclay, is a former GP and Medical School lec­turer.  Since retire­ment, he has developed a keen interest in the Economic History of Sheffield and has been much involved with the devel­op­ment of Kelham Island Museum and espe­cially its col­lec­tion of hand tools. He was to gain a PhD for his researches.  As he put it, “I moved from leg sores to hand saws!”.  He is author of sev­eral books and magazine art­icles on the sub­ject, with saws at the cut­ting edge.  Simon’s interest in this once over­looked area led to a long stand­ing friend­ship with Ken Hawley (1927–2014) of Earl Street (off the Moor) tool shop fame.  When Ken’s shop finally sur­rendered to the likes B & Q and his retire­ment beck­on­ing, Simon was instru­mental in cata­loguing and moving the bulk of Ken’s tool col­lec­tion to Kelham Island, where it can be admired today. The invent­ory amoun­ted to over 100,000 items, many acquired by the boxful for the cost of a few pounds and removal as dein­dus­tri­al­isa­tion hit Sheffield hard from the 1970s onwards.   But we were to be absorbed in the story of just one tool, a rather spe­cial hand­saw.

In Victorian times unin­hib­ited private entre­pren­eurs would go to great lengths to pub­li­cise their products and not only in cata­logues or trade magazines.  They would par­ti­cip­ate in the great exhib­i­tions of the era which were blessed by royal pat­ron­age.  It was with the latter in mind that many firms sought the “by appoint­ment” Royal Warrant.  It was at one of these exhib­i­tions in early 1851 that Victoria (Princess Royal 1840–1901) met her future hus­band, Crown Prince Fredrick III of Prussia (1831–1888).  By that time Prussia was by far the dom­in­ant German state, occupy­ing two thirds of that country’s ter­rit­ory.  Notwithstanding the dis­ap­proval of the Kaiser and the Chancellor, Bismarck, the match was seen in London at the time as a good way of ensur­ing good rela­tions between Great Britain and this ascend­ing power.

 

                                      

The mar­riage of Fredrick and Victoria in late 1858 was the wed­ding of the year.  Held in the chapel at St James’ Palace, the couple were showered with presents to fill their home at Potsdam, out­side Berlin.  Apparently European Royalty liked to acquire dec­or­ated tools and not least among the gifts was that of a spe­cially made back saw.  While the back was brass, the twelve inch blade was made from the finest Sheffield cru­cible steel.  It brought together the supreme skills of the saw maker’s art of shap­ing, pol­ish­ing and fin­ish­ing steel and brass, but also the designer and etcher dec­or­a­tion on the blade.  The present­a­tion etched in bas-relief on either side of the Royal arms reads:

May God’s bless­ing attend the mar­riage of His Royal Highness Prince Frederick William of Prussia with Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal of England”

 

 The dec­or­a­tion includes the two national sym­bols of oak leaves and laurel leaves, and the toe end of the blade is cut out in the form of a swan –a bird that sym­bol­ise mar­ital con­stancy.  The handle of carved ivory includes a sym­bolic cor­nu­copia (horn of plenty) and a dol­phin, and is attached to the blade by two nickel-plated screws. The brass back is engraved with the words “Presented by Messrs Taylor Brothers, saw man­u­fac­tur­ers, Adelaide works, Sheffield.” The firm was well known for its dec­or­ated saws, being the first in Sheffield to employ a firm of engravers and print­ers (James Bagshaw) to make the increas­ingly elab­or­ate designs to dec­or­ate the blades. Their fee for this mas­ter­piece was 14/6.

 

 It is unlikely that such an unusual gift would influ­ence the thirty-year happy mar­riage of Frederick and Victoria, which ended in the former’s pre­ma­ture death (of throat cancer) in 1888.  The couple were to have seven chil­dren, the eldest, Wilhelm, becom­ing Germany’s last Kaiser.   Frederick and Victoria shared a lib­eral and demo­cratic approach to public affairs and dis­cour­aged the country’s increas­ing mil­it­ar­ism which was to do so much to sour rela­tions with Great Britain and others.  This atmo­sphere encour­aged Victoria to leave Berlin and build a new home near Frankfurt am Main which she aptly named Friedrichshof Castle in memory of her hus­band. The castle was even­tu­ally to become a luxury hotel, which it remains today.

At the end of World War Two, the Castle was taken over by the American Military.  Under the cir­cum­stances it is not sur­pris­ing that easily car­ried items ‘went miss­ing’.  It is thought that a US ser­vice­man going on leave spir­ited away our unusual saw and sold or pawned it in a Paris flea market. There it remained unloved for some time before being spot­ted and pur­chased by a Swiss col­lector, Luigi Nessi.

After Nessi’s death in 2012, the saw was pur­chased by a dealer in Austria.  Our speaker was instru­mental in rais­ing the £13,000 required (by Crowd fund­ing, indi­vidual gifts and grants from vari­ous char­it­ies) to allow the Ken Hawley Collection Trust to secure this much trav­elled (but never used) treas­ure. In turn, The Kelham Island Trust is indebted and grate­ful for being able to bring back to the city of its man­u­fac­ture one of the most remark­able tools ever made here.  It is on dis­play in the Saw Wall in the Gallery- go and have a look!

 

MICHAEL CLARKE

Follow the link below for more inform­a­tion on Kelham Island Museum:

http://www.simt.co.uk/kelham-island-museum

 

                       

 

 

 

 

 

Dissection of Rembrandt Andrew Shorthouse February 25th 2019

The talk began with a brief resumé of how the prot­est­ant Dutch revolt against Spanish rule lead to inde­pend­ence and the Golden Age. The Dutch accrued enorm­ous wealth from trade and became Europe’s store­house for grain and timber, the staples of food, hous­ing and ship­ping. Amsterdam was the hub. It was a time of great soph­ist­ic­a­tion with huge interest in the arts and sci­ences. The expand­ing mer­chant class gen­er­ated vast wealth and stoked a thriv­ing art trade. Rembrandt was there at the right time. He was born in Leiden in 1606, the son of a pros­per­ous malt miller and his mother belonged to a wealthy family of bakers. Although they were Calvinists, Rembrandt him­self was never par­tic­u­larly reli­gious. He was at the Latin school from 14 fol­lowed by Leiden University, but his pas­sion was art and he dropped out from a clas­sical edu­ca­tion at 16. His first appren­tice­ship was 3 years with Jacob van Swanenburgh in Leiden. He then moved to Amsterdam for a year with the influ­en­tial Pieter Lastman, an emin­ent artist who had returned from Italy having met Caravaggio and Titian.

Rembrandt was tem­por­ar­ily in Leiden as an inde­pend­ent artist but quickly fol­lowed the money to Amsterdam in 1631 and took lodgings with Hendrik Uylenburgh, an influ­en­tial art dealer. His repu­ta­tion grew rap­idly with por­trait and his­tor­ical scene com­mis­sions.

He quickly made import­ant con­tact with roy­alty and the Amsterdam elite. Within a year, he was given a pivotal “make or break” com­mis­sion to paint the fourth Guild of Surgeons’ group por­trait as a record of the Praelector’s (Professor’s) Annual Public Anatomy. These por­traits date from 1603 and most can be found in the Museum of Amsterdam together with those of the other guilds.

Philip II had gran­ted a priv­ilege in 1555 to dis­sect an executed crim­inal once a year not only for the pur­pose of teach­ing and learn­ing ana­tomy, but also for con­tem­plat­ing life and death; reli­gious fear gov­erned the des­tiny of the soul. The dynamic teach­ing and ges­tures of Dr Tulp and the other guild mem­bers con­trast with the static corpse and provide the ana­logy. The Dutch had a huge stom­ach for this sort of public enter­tain­ment. Public dis­sec­tions lasted about 3 days and held in January for obvi­ous reas­ons.

Rembrandt was just 25 and had rel­at­ively few por­traits under the belt, so no sweat. But he was brave enough to depart from the stiff form­al­ised group por­trait to create the dynamic The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp 1632”, now per­man­ently housed in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague.

Detailed archival records of the Golden age are avail­able in the Netherlands. Dr Tulp was born Claes Pietersz but changed his name to Tulp, hanging a swinging board with a painted tulip over his con­sult­ing room front door so his patients could find him easily – many were illit­er­ate – a good move! It was the time of tulip­mania.

Tulp qual­i­fied in medi­cine in Leiden and was the first to estab­lish the link between lung dis­ease and tobacco.

His staple treat­ment was “pur­ging simples, in degrees from gentle to viol­ent, upwards or down­wards”. Melancholy was very fash­ion­able at the time.

He also signed off fit­ness reports on the first Manhatten set­tlers. In 1641 his “Observationes Medicae” brought him inter­na­tional fame and became a stand­ard text­book for many years. As an accom­plished artist, he illus­trated it him­self. He was incid­ent­ally the first to record the exist­ence of the chim­pan­zee!

He became Praelector of the Surgeons’ Guild in 1628, was the offi­cial city ana­tom­ist, foun­ded the Collegium Medicum (fore­run­ner of the Amsterdam University Medical School), elec­ted mayor and was a cent­ral player in Amsterdam soci­ety.

 The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp shows him teach­ing the rela­tion­ship between the ana­tomy of the flexor digitorum super­fi­cialis muscle of the fore­arm and its func­tion, rep­lic­ated and demon­strated by Tulp with his left hand. This muscle bends the fin­gers for­wards (e.g. in waving).

Seven guild mem­bers and an unseen audi­ence of up to 300, packed and stacked in steep tiers of the sur­round­ing ana­tomy theatre, are being taught by Tulp, whose dom­in­ance is marked by a dynamic pos­ture, a large brimmed hat, flat white collar and black finery, in direct con­trast with the naked static white corpse. This was Aris ‘t Kint who was executed on Jan 31st 1631 as a serial thief. Prior to exe­cu­tion he was branded and his right hand was ampu­tated as extra pun­ish­ment.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp was almost cer­tainly not painted “live”. Dissection nor­mally star­ted with abdo­men and chest, clear­ing the con­tents before the stench set in (too badly). The guild mem­bers were dressed in their best. Individual studio por­traits were prob­ably pre­pared before the dis­sec­tion. There is no record of Rembrandt’s pres­ence at the dis­sec­tion and he left no pre­lim­in­ary draw­ings, although he undoubtedly had atten­ded others, if not this par­tic­u­lar one. The dis­sec­ted left arm was prob­ably studio painted, either Aris ‘t Kint’s own after the dis­sec­tion or some other corpse’s arm. Rembrandt might just have copied from an ana­tom­ical illus­tra­tion. Who knows?

Dissection of the arm and hand is sig­ni­fic­ant. Dr Tulp wanted to be seen as the new Vesalius, who’d rub­bished Galen’s 1300 year old the­or­ies of ana­tomy based upon animal dis­sec­tion. Vesalius was the first to relate human ana­tomy to func­tion.

17th cen­tury intel­lec­tu­als felt that ana­tomy was the path to God and that the hand was vis­ible proof of God’s pres­ence.

Rembrandt relied on Lastman’s teach­ing in achiev­ing a dynamic com­pos­i­tion, with a clear nar­rat­ive; a snap-shot “record” of Tulp’s lesson, the dis­sec­tion climax relat­ing ana­tomy to func­tion emu­lat­ing Vesalius, and a pleth­ora of sym­bolic ges­tures and demean­ors. It was a stroke of genius on Rembrandt’s part to paint de Wit lean­ing hori­zont­ally for­ward (above the corpse’ head) to create such dra­matic ten­sion.

Although the guild mem­bers are all closely linked to one another, there is a clear sense of hier­archy and sub­or­din­a­tion, espe­cially with Tulp’s dom­in­ance and in his own space on the right of the paint­ing.

3-D illu­sion is bril­liantly achieved by a com­bin­a­tion of tech­niques. Rembrandt’s pri­or­ity was dark­ness for drama and con­trast. He was a master of chiaroscuro (light to shade trans­ition), already refined by Caravaggio. Tonal change is prom­in­ent; opaque impasto of the corpse (neat thick white paint with vis­ible brush strokes) attracts the eye and brings the corpse for­ward. There is pro­gress­ive trans­par­ency and fuzzi­ness towards the rear, giving the illu­sion of dis­tance, as does over­lap of guild mem­bers, fore­short­en­ing of the corpse, and subtle diminu­tion in size of the guild mem­bers towards the rear. Rembrandt used a simple palette of earth col­ours with greater emphasis on tonal and light manip­u­la­tion, but 3-D mod­el­ling of faces was also achieved by juxta pos­i­tion of cold (e.g. green/blue) and warm (e.g. red/orange) col­ours.

Did Rembrandt use geo­metry in his pre­lim­in­ary arrange­ment of fig­ures? This is con­ten­tious. He was famil­iar with clas­sical teach­ing but received opin­ion is that he used tri­angles. Bouleau (1963) stated that any attempt to ana­lyse com­pos­i­tion tech­nique is pre­sump­tu­ous. Various geo­met­rical ideas were out­lined in the talk (par­al­lel­o­grams, tri­angles, rabat­ments, arcs and circles). It is more than tempt­ing to think Rembrandt might have resor­ted to geo­metry in his plan­ning of The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp. Many of today’s artists rub­bish this idea, con­victed to the idea of nouse and intu­ition through nat­ural talent.

Rabatment (squares within a rect­angle), arc and circle within the two rabat­ments

Guild archives show that the paint­ing was housed in a servant’s kit­chen and got into a dread­ful state with smoke, damp and, in 1723, fire. The City Council decided to sell. King Willem I ordered its pur­chase in 1828 for the Mauritshuis Museum, where it stays to this day.

There have been 20 restorations/repairs from 1700. A major res­tor­a­tion was car­ried out in1996-8 with hard evid­ence emer­ging for its ori­ginal com­pos­i­tion and addi­tions by others, using stereo-microscopy, UV, X-rays, IR pho­to­graphy, and reflec­to­graphy.

Rembrandt’s sig­na­ture is genu­ine and he painted all the Guild mem­bers, making vari­ous adjust­ments him­self. He metic­u­lously painted a new hand onto the corpse’s stump. A later 18th cen­tury over­paint­ing of a guild mem­bers’ roll call (just to the left of Tulp) by others was partly removed to reveal a dam­aged but largely intact and ori­ginal under­ly­ing ana­tom­ical illus­tra­tion by Rembrandt

For over a cen­tury there has been fierce debate about whether Rembrandt got the ana­tomy of the dis­sec­ted fore­arm wrong. A recent com­par­at­ive Dutch ana­tom­ical study proved he was right.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp was enorm­ously suc­cess­ful. Fame and for­tune quickly fol­lowed. In 1634 he mar­ried Saskia Uylenburgh, the niece of the art dealer. Of four chil­dren, only Titus sur­vived.

The turn­ing point was 1642 when Saskia died. The Night Watch was com­pleted to great acclaim at the same time, but it marked the start of a long decline. In 1643 he co-habited with Geertja Dirkes, a wid­owed bar­maid, his house-keeper and Titus’ nanny. Then there was an acri­mo­ni­ous sep­ar­a­tion and Rembrandt was sued. Somehow he engin­eered her deten­tion in a lun­atic asylum but his repu­ta­tion was dam­aged. By 1649 the 24 year old Hendrijke Stoffels was living with Rembrandt.

Financial arrange­ments in Saskia’s will pre­ven­ted mar­riage but an ille­git­im­ate daugh­ter fol­lowed. Hendrickje was ex-communicated and charged with pros­ti­tu­tion on the grounds she was unmar­ried and had “stained her­self by for­nic­at­ing with Rembrandt”.

Problems moun­ted. The Anglo Dutch wars from 1652 lead to col­lapse of the eco­nomy and art trade. Uylenburgh’s son had inher­ited his father’s gal­lery and was declared bank­rupt. The Prince of Orange, a major patron, died. Rembrandt, an extra­vag­ant spender, had ser­i­ously over­stretched him­self buying master paint­ings and taking out prop­erty loans. He was declared bank­rupt in 1656. His pos­ses­sions and prop­erty were sold but the return was poor due to the fail­ing eco­nomy.

Creditors were left short. A neat trick; Hendrickje and Titus set up in busi­ness with Rembrandt as an employee but without a salary, just board and lodging. He car­ried on paint­ing but des­pite his dam­aged repu­ta­tion he was still in demand, lead­ing to his greatest period. Examples are Jan Six, The Jewish Bride, The Syndics of the Cloth Workers’ Guild, St Peter deny­ing Christ, The Slaughter House. Many of these can be seen in the cur­rent extra­vag­anza in Amsterdam at the Rijk’s Museum “All the Rembrandts” (15 Feb-10 June).

Rembrandt’s health was poorly doc­u­mented. Medical records from 1632 showed “fever­ish industry, lack of leis­ure, sedent­ary life…but oth­er­wise in good health” (like most of us long before retire­ment). In 1641 Tulp, most prob­ably refer­ring to Rembrandt, recor­ded “a dis­tin­guished painter…harassed with black bile … delu­sional that all his bones were softening…bed ridden for months with mel­an­choly and hypochondriasis…cured with “cath­artic med­ic­a­tions” (a pan­acea of the times). Depression had set in around the time of Saskias’s death. But many paint­ers had chronic lead pois­on­ing, with depres­sion one of many symp­toms, due to lead based pig­ment on skin, cloth­ing and from inhal­a­tion.

Rembrandt even­tu­ally died aged 63, a very good age at the time, given life expect­ancy then was only 44.

Rembrandt’s last self-portrait

I was asked at the talk why Rembrandt did so many self-portraits, some­thing approach­ing 100 paint­ings, prints and draw­ings. No-one knows for cer­tain. There was cer­tainly a com­mer­cial demand for this sort of paint­ing. He might have wanted to create a visual record of him­self over a span of 40 years; his stu­dents made copies as part of their train­ing; was he pos­sibly nar­ciss­istic?

They were painted using a mirror, so his fea­tures were in reverse. Only his etch­ings show him as he really was, because print­ing res­ults in a reversed image.

Finally, this his­tor­ical novel by Nina Siegal is fac­tu­ally pretty accur­ate and a very good bed­time read – sleep well!