Skeleton of the unknown pirate comes home to England

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His name and reputation have been lost to history, but the skeleton of an executed English pirate is finally coming home. The likeness of the remains was captured for posterity by the artist Nicolaes Eliasz Pickenoy in a remarkable painting showing the work of the Guild of Surgeons in Amsterdam. [Image online here.]

That work, The Osteology Lesson of Dr Sebastiaen Egbertsz, is set to be a highlight of an exhibition of 17th-century Dutch painting at the National Gallery in London this summer.

It has never been shown in Britain but is important as an example of a genre of anatomy-lesson paintings that are peculiar to the Netherlands. The work, known as "the laughing skeleton" because of its apparent smile, clearly shows a horizontal line across the skull where the cranium could be opened...

Inventories show the skeleton was that of a pirate who was captured, executed and his body dissected. It was borrowed by Dr Sebastiaen Egbertsz in 1615 for anatomy lessons organised by the surgeons' guild.

The work will be joined in the exhibition by one of Rembrandt's most important works, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp...

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