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March 7, 2014

Book Notes: Author reads ‘Anatomy Lesson’ at Peabody Essex

Art will come to life Tuesday night when Nina Siegal reads from her new novel, “The Anatomy Lesson,” at Peabody Essex Museum.

The book, which is being released that day by her publisher, is based on a painting that made Rembrandt famous.

“It’s fun, it’s accessible, and it makes you look at the painting in a different way,” said Karina Corrigan, curator of Asian export art at the museum.

The full title of Rembrandt’s painting is “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,” and it features seven men watching a doctor dissect a corpse.

“It’s a painting I’ve known since I was a child, when I was grossed out by it,” Corrigan said. “But it becomes part of this much more complex story.”

Tuesday’s 7 p.m. event is free and will include access to “Golden Light,” an exhibit that includes Dutch paintings from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo collection.

“The Anatomy Lesson” resembles other recent best-sellers that have made stories out of fascinating paintings, including Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” and Tracy Chevalier’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.”

Siegal did an enormous amount of research in Amsterdam, where she also works as a journalist, and where the painting was created in 1632.

The action includes the painter and centers on the day when the corpse, a condemned man named Aris Kindt, was put to death.

“Each chapter is dedicated to a different person, and I’m certain many of them are real people,” Corrigan said. “Some of them may be her own fabrication but Dr. Tulp, the principal figure, and the condemned man — those are accurate.”

Corrigan, who is currently researching a show of Dutch painting that will be at the museum next year, was impressed by the depth of Siegal’s research into the period.

She also admired Siegal’s device of using different parts of human anatomy as chapter titles, and associating them with different characters.

“Rembrandt is the eyes,” she said. “It’s from Rembrandt’s perspective, talking about what’s going on in this one day.”

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