1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 55

Chapter 9

Dr. Phil’s Portrait

January 1632, Amsterdam

Dr. Nicolaes Tulp was just leaving the dissection theater when Caspar Barlaeus fell into step beside him.

“The dissection is going well,” Casper said.

Nicolaes shot Casper a speculative glance. “Spit it out, Casper. What is it you really want to talk about?”

“I hear the Guild commissioned a new group portrait to celebrate your appointment as the new praelector . . .”

Nicolaes snorted. “I was appointed Praelector Anatomiae nearly four years ago, and it is only now the Guild of Surgeons is getting round to commissioning a portrait, and they insist I pay for it.” He studied Casper. “But you already know that, don’t you, Casper.”

Casper nodded. “They’re given the commission to that new man, van Rijn.” He drew a folded paper from under his doublet. “These people are willing to share the cost of the painting.”

Nicolaes snatched the paper out of Casper’s hands and opened it. “Jacob Dircksz de Graeff and his nephew, Andries Bicker.” He released a short laugh. “Why am I not surprised that they want to be included? Wait a moment.” he looked up. “Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz? Isn’t that the same man you want to award a doctorate?”

Casper nodded. “It is only fitting that the first person to be awarded a doctorate by the University of Amsterdam be included in the painting.”

“Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself?” Nicolaes asked. “The charter hasn’t been granted yet.”

Yet,” Casper said with emphasis. “Besides, paintings as large as van Rijn intends painting take time. The Athenaeum Illustre should be a full university and able to award doctorates before he finishes his masterpiece.”

“Masterpiece?” Nicolaes asked. “It’s just another group portrait for the guild hall.”

Casper smiled. “According to the information I have received, this painting will make van Rijn so famous he’ll still be remembered as a master painter three hundred and seventy years into the future.”

“You’ve been in contact with the people from the future?’ Nicolaes demanded. “Do you have . . .”

Casper held up his hands. “I haven’t personally had dealings with the people from the future, but I have spoken to someone who has.”

“Oh.” Nicolaes tried to hold back his disappointment.

“But,” Casper said, “awarding a doctorate to Mijnheer Gribbleflotz should help open doors.”

“Almost you convince me to go along with this fraud,” Nicolaes said, “but not even for direct access to the medical profession in the city from the future can I condone awarding a degree to someone who is not worthy of it.”

Casper nodded in an understanding and sympathetic way. “Of course, Nicolaes, and of course no one is expecting you to condone awarding a degree to someone who is not worthy.”

Nicolaes snorted with laughter. “I’ve had Bicker on my back to support doing so since the idea was first mooted.”

“Oh, I agree, Bicker is carrying on like an elephant in a glass store, but I have reason to believe Mijnheer Gribbleflotz is worthy. Did you know he was apprenticed to Professor Casseri and helped him perform a number of dissections?” Casper didn’t wait for a reaction to that little piece of information before continuing. “I also understand he helped Professor Bauhin, in Basel, perform a dissection on a pregnant woman.”

“What? On a woman?” Nicolaes shook his head in disbelief. “How is that possible?”

Casper shrugged. “I have no idea how he did it, but I am reliably informed that he did do it.”

“What do you call reliable?” Nicolaes asked, still not prepared to believe what he was hearing.

“One of our lecturers, Dr. Wilhelm Dorschner, has worked with Mijnheer Gribbleflotz, and he has seen the man’s personal journal account of the dissection.”

“I know Wilhelm. He’s a good surgeon.” Nicolaes nodded.

“He worked with Mijnheer Gribbleflotz in the service of von Mansfeld for over four years.”

“That doesn’t prove anything. There were plenty of incompetent butchers serving as military surgeons.”

“But was he incompetent?” Casper asked. “He’s the man who saved Major Jan Bicker’s leg.” He paused for effect before continuing. “The Major, then only a captain, suffered a compound fracture of the femur.”

Nicolaes whistled. “How’s that possible?” he asked. “That kind of injury is usually fatal. Yet I’ve seen Jan just this week, walking around the city with Catharina.” He shook his head in negation. “It can’t have been a fracture. Maybe he just broke it.”

“Don’t take my word for it,” Casper. “Talk to Major Bicker.”

Major Bicker’s house, Amsterdam

Jan Bicker stood up to greet Nicolaes as he was led into the morning room. “Dr. Tulp. How can I help you?” he ask

Nicolaes waved away the attentions of the maid and pulled an A4 ink-jet printout of a photograph of Phillip Gribbleflotz from the satchel the maid had been trying to take away. “Do you know this man?” he asked.

“That’s Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Catharina said. “That’s a very good painting. Where did you get it from?” she asked. “Look at the colors he’s wearing. I wonder where he got them.”

“You know this man?” Nicolaes asked.

“Of course,” Catharina said. “He operated on Jan. He saved my Jan’s life,” she said growing teary eyed. Suddenly she smiled. “Is he in town?”

“I’m afraid not.” Nicolaes tried to think of how to broach the subject of Jan’s leg. After a silence that was growing uncomfortably long, he blurted out the question that had been bothering him. “I’ve heard he treated you for a compound fracture of the femur.”

Jan smiled. “That’s right. The other surgeons wanted to amputate, but Dr. Gribbleflotz said he knew a way of possibly saving my leg if I was willing to take a risk.”

“Did he tell you how big a risk you were taking?” Nicolaes demanded. “A compound fracture of the femur is usually fatal, even after amputation.” A gasp from Catharina had Nicolaes cursing his loose tongue. He smiled reassuringly at Catharina. “But it seems Jan was one of the lucky ones.”

Catharina turned to Jan. “And we rewarded him by giving him that cursed lump of crystal.”

“Cursed crystal?” Nicolaes asked.

Catharina pointed an accusing finger at her husband. “He stole it from a Jew, who cursed him for robbing him. We had nothing but bad luck for years, until we gave it to Dr. Gribbleflotz as a token of thanks for saving Jan.” She looked from Jan to Nicolaes before returning to look at her husband. “He saved your life, and that’s how we thanked him,” she muttered bitterly.

“We didn’t have much left to give him, Catharina, and he took it gratefully,” Jan said.

“Because he didn’t know it was cursed,” Catharina said.

As a man married recently for the second time, Nicolaes knew better than to get involved in a marital spat, however, this one he felt he could settle amicably. He coughed loudly enough to attract Jan and Catharina’s attention. “I think that you broke the curse when you freely gave the crystal to Dr. Gribbleflotz.”

“How can you say that?” Catharina demanded.

Nicolaes held up the picture of Phillip again. “Because this is the image of the man who wishes to be included in the group portrait the Guild of Surgeon has commissioned to celebrate my appointment as the Praelector Anatomiae.

“And that sort of thing doesn’t come cheap,” Jan said, a look of relief on his face.

Catharina looked at the picture of Phillip again. “Surely a man wearing such colors has to be lucky,” she said.

“So, Dr. Tulp. You didn’t say how I could help you,” Jan said.

‘You have helped me,” Nicolaes said. “I just wanted to confirm the pictures I’ve been provided are of the right man.” he smiled. “It wouldn’t do for the artist to paint the wrong person, would it?” that elicited a smile from Jan and Catharina. “Thank you for your time,” Nicolas said.

“Will we be able to see the finished painting?” Catharina asked.

Nicolaes shook his head slowly. “I’m afraid not, Mevrouw Bicker. It will be hung in the Guild hall. Now, I’m sorry, but I must take my leave.”

Nicolaes was escorted to the door by Jan and Catharina, and he couldn’t help but notice that Jan walked with no sign of a limp. He really needed to ask Wilhelm if he knew how Gribbleflotz had done it.

Caspar Barlaeus’s office

Nicolaes pushed his way into Casper’s office after a perfunctory knock. “Okay,” he announced. I will support your awarding a doctorate to Mijnheer Gribbleflotz.”

“Good, good, and am I to take it that you also have no objection to him appearing in the portrait Mijnheer van Rijn will be paining?”

Nicolaes waved his hand at Casper. “You’ve won. There’s no need to rub it in. I’ll support the awarding of a doctorate to Mijnheer Gribbleflotz if the Stadtholder approves the university.”

Van Rijn’s studio

Casper stood in van Rijn’s studio and couldn’t help but stare at the size of the portrait the artist was working on. “Are you sure your canvas is big enough, Rembrandt?” he asked.

“It has to be this big to contain the self-importance of all the subjects,” Rembrandt said.

Casper grinned. “Dr. Gribbleflotz will not be able to sit for his portrait.”

The charcoal in Rembrandt’s hand snapped. “How am I to paint a man when I don’t know what he looks like?” he demanded.

Casper pulled a folder of A4 papers from his satchel and handed it over to the artist. “I was given these.”

Rembrandt snatched the folder of color photographs from Casper. “Such colors, and so realistic.” He looked up at Casper. “How is it done?” he demanded.

Casper had to shrug his shoulders. “If you want to learn, you’ll have to visit the city from the future, but please, not until after you finish the painting.”

Rembrandt sighed and returned to his canvas, comparing the half-dozen color photographs of Phillip Gribbleflotz with his canvas. “I think I will put him here,” he said, making a lightning sketch of Phillip. “I do hope you won’t mind if I use the colors he has chosen for his clothes. It makes such a change from the normal black.”

“You’re the artist,” Casper said.

“Of course I am, and whose face would you like me to use on the cadaver?” Rembrandt asked.

Several inappropriate options flashed through Casper’s mind, but good sense prevailed. “Phillip of Spain?” he suggested.

Rembrandt stood back to look at his canvas. “Yes, I can do that.”


Phillip stood in front of the mirror in his room and admired the way the lime green shirt played off the barely visible puce lining of his dark blue jack with the yellow lace collar. He slowly turned around, taking in the full magnificence of his outfit, properly set off by the tasteful orange-colored Western boots. A gentle tug at his sleeves ensured that a bit of the line green was visible below the cuffs of the jacket. Yes, perfect. With a smile on his face Phillip gave his lucky crystal a rub before he left his hotel room and went for a walk around Grantville.