Tulp, Nicolaas

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(b. Amsterdam, Netherlands, 11 October 1593; d. The Hague, Netherlands, 12 September 1674)

medicine, anatomy.

Nicolaas Tulp was the son of Pieter Dirkz, a wealthy merchant of Amsterdam, and Grietje Dirks Poelenburgh. Dirkz, meaning son of Dirk (Henry), was not a family name. According to Busken Huet, Tulp’s real name was Claes (Nicolas) Pieterz. He took the name Tulp (“tulip”) from the sculpture on the gable of his house on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam.

On 19 February 1611, Tulp matriculated at the University of Leiden under the name of Nicolaas Petraeus. He obtained his medical degree on 30 September 1614, after defending his dissertation, De cholera humida. Tulp then settled in Amsterdam, where he soon had a lucrative practice. It is said that he was the first physician in town to visit his patients in a carriage.

Tulp was appointed praelector of anatomy in 1628, succeeding Joannes Fonteyn. He had the personal title professor anatomiae and was charged with teaching the surgeons of the city and illustrating the lectures, whenever possible, with public dissections.

Tulp is perhaps best known from the painting by Rembrandt commissioned by the Surgeons Guild in 1632. He is portrayed giving a lecture demonstration with an opened body. The painting, the famous “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp,” is in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

One of Amsterdam’s leading citizens, Tulp served as a member of the city government, including four terms as mayor. He was also a curator of the Athenaeum, the city’s school of higher learning.

In 1652, because of the pressures of his civic and professional duties, Tulp resigned his position as praelector. He was succeeded by J. Deyman.

Tulp’s main work, the Observationum medicarum libri tres (1641), contains descriptions of 228 cases. Most of them cannot stand the test of modern criticism, but there are some valuable observations. For example, he described the ileocecal valve, sometimes called Tulp’s valve, which is located at the junction of the large and small intestines, and he gave a correct description of its function. He also described the chyle vessels of the small intestine, which actually was a rediscovery. According to Baumann, both Herophilus and Erasistratus knew of these vessels but the knowledge was lost. Tulp also was the first to describe beriberi.

Tulp is also sometimes credited with the first description of the orangutan, about a half century before Tyson (1699), but incorrectly so. What Tulp described was a chimpanzee, which does appear to have been the first in Europe.

A great admirer of Hippocrates, Tulp opposed the new ideas of the iatrochemists, of whom J. B. van Helmont was the most notable. He was especially against the use of antimony, which was beginning to be prescribed.

The first pharmacopoeia of the Netherlands was compiled at Tulp’s suggestion, He proposed the idea to a group of six physicians during a dinner at his house on 18 April 1635. A committee was formed, and on 5 May 1636 (date of the preface) the book was published. Since the time was so short, it is generally believed that Tulp had most of the manuscript ready when he made the proposal and that the book was therefore largely from his own hand. The municipality of Amsterdam ruled that this pharmacopoeia was henceforth to be the only one used in the city. Thus was formed the Collegium Medicum Amstelaedamense, set up to enforce the decree. The Collegium soon developed into a municipal committee for health care, the earliest example of governmental concern with public health in the Netherlands.


I.Original Works. The Pharmacopoea Amstelaedamensis, senatus auctoritate munita (Amsterdam, 1636) went into many editions, the most recent being a facsimile edition of 1961. Observationum medicarum libri tres (Amsterdam, 1641) also had several eds., some with slightly changed titles (Amsterdam, 1652, 1672, 1685; and Leiden, 1716, 1739). The fifth ed. has a biography and the sixth ed. has the funeral oration by L. Wolzogen, professor of church history at the Athenaeum of Amsterdam.

Dutch translations are De drie boecken der medicijnsche aanmerkingen (Amsterdam, 1650); Geneeskundige waarnemingen, Naar den zesden druk uit het latijn vertaald, Hier is bijgevoegd de lijkrede van L. Wolzogen (Leiden, 1740); and Hippocrates, Aphorismen, of kortbondige spreuken. Beneffens desselfs wet en vermaningen. Alsmede d’aanmaningen van N. Tulp. Vertaald door Steph. Blankaart (Amsterdam, 1680 [?]; 2nd ed., 1714).

II.Secondary Literature. See H. F. Thijssen, “Voorlezing over Nicolaas Tulp,” in Magazijn voor wetenschappen, Kunsten en Letteren van N. G. van Kampen, 3 (1824); L. H. van Bochove, Dissertatio historica-medica inauguralis de Nicolao Tulpio, anatomes practicae strenuo cultore (Leiden, 1846); H. C. Rogge, “Nicolaas Tulp,” in De Gids, 3rd ser., 18 (1880), 77–125; E. H. M. Thijssen, Nicolaas Tulp als geneeskundige geschetst. Eene bijdrage tot de geschiedenis der geneeskunde in de achttiende eeuw (Amsterdam, 1881); and C. Busken Huet, Het land van Rembrandt, 2nd ed. (Haarlem, 1886), II B , 57–61.

Other works are E. D. Baumann, “Nicolaas Tulp” in Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, III (1914), 1250-1251; J. S. Theissen, “Nicolaas (Claes Pieterz) Tulp,” in Gedenkboek van het Athenaeum en de Universiteit van Amsterdam (Amsterdam, 1932), 695–696; A. Bredius, Rembrandt, schilderijen (Utrecht, 1935); P. van der Wielen, “De eerste Nederlandsche Pharmacopee,” in Bijdragen tot de Geschiedenis der Geneeskunde, 16 (1936), 57–63; E. D. Baumann, Uitdrie eeuwen Nederlandsche Geneeskunde (Amsterdam, 1951), esp.64–71; and A. Querido, “Nicolaas Tulp en zijn manuscript,” in Spiegel Historiael, 5 (1970), 305–311, on Tulp’s own Dutch translation of the Observationum.

Peter W. van der Pas

Tulp, Nicolaas

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Tulp, Nicolaas

Dutch physician

The Dutch physician Nicolaas Tulp was born on October 11, 1593, in Amsterdam, Holland, the fourth child of a prominent merchant family. He was originally named Claes (Nicolas) Pieterz, but he later adopted the name Tulp, meaning "tulip." Tulp attended Leiden University in Holland, receiving his medical degree in 1614. He then returned to Amsterdam, opening a practice in surgery and general medicine. In 1628, Tulp was appointed as a lecturer of the Surgeon's Guild, a position he held until 1652. His duties were to lecture in anatomy and surgery, to apprentice surgeons, and to deliver public dissections. The most famous of these, held on January 31, 1632, was depicted by the artist Rembrandt in his famous painting "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp," now in Holland's Mauritshuis museum.

Tulp's best-known medical work, published in Latin in 1641, is titled Observationes Medicae. Tulp believed that all medical publications should be published in Latin, which the public could not read, to prevent people from treating their own illnesses. In his book, Tulp summarized his own cases and observations, including his description of beriberi, a disease caused by vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. This is one of the first known descriptions of beriberi. Tulp had treated a Dutchman who was brought back to Holland from the East Indies, suffering from what the natives of the Indies called beriberi or "the lameness." Although Tulp described beriberi in detail, he was unaware that it was caused by a dietary deficiency. It was more than two hundred years later that Dutch physicians discovered the cause of beriberi. Tulp also described the ileocecal valve at the junction of the large and small intestines , still known as Tulp's valve.

During the plague epidemic of 1635, Tulp supported quarantine as a means to control the spread of the disease. At the same time, Tulp suggested that local pharmacists be placed under municipal control, because he viewed them as inefficient. This resulted in the formation of the first local medical authority in Holland. Another result of Tulp's concern was the publication of the first Dutch pharmacopoeia, a book describing drugs , chemicals, and medicinal preparations.

In addition to his scientific endeavors, Tulp was an active public servant. He served four times as mayor of Amsterdam, was treasurer of the city for twenty-seven years, and was elected several times as a city councilor. Tulp also served as a judge, trustee of the city orphanage, and curator of two local schools. Tulp was married to Aagfe Van der Vogh in 1617; unfortunately, she died in 1628. Tulp died in the The Hague in 1674, at the age of eightyone.

see also Beriberi.

Karen Bryla


Gillispie, Charles Coulston, ed. (1976). Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. XIII. New York: Scribners.

Spencer, Frank, ed. (1997). History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, Vol. 2. New York: Garland.

Todhunter, E. Neige (1967). "Biographical Notes from the History of Nutrition." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 50:200.