Rembrandt’s elephant

Of all the reasons to come to Amsterdam, two are often mentioned: Rembrandt and Artis, the zoo.

In Rembrandt’s time, the famous Golden Century, there was no zoo in Amsterdam. But Rembrandt did see an elephant. He drew and etched this elephant.

B&B Rembrandt, Rembrandt's elephant

Elephant Hansken by Rembrandt in 1637.

It was a female Indian elephant that was brought to Holland by the East Indian Company in 1633, for stadholder Frederik Hendrik. The elephant was named Hansken. After some years the elephant passed into the hands of Cornelis van Groenevelt and he toured the far corners of Europe with the elephant for some twenty years.

An elephant was so unusual in those days that everyone came to see it. And there was a lot to see because its keeper made the thick-skinned creature perform a vast repertoire of tricks. To the amazement of the audience, Hansken could fence with a sword, shoot with a pistol, put on and take off a hat and much more. Van Groenevelt would have made good earnings until the elephant died in Florence in 1655.

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Your host has researched Hansken, wrote a book about her, and in collaboration with publisher Leporello, created a website. The research shows among other where Hansken has been.


Do you come from one of the places that Hansken has visited? Than you will receive for free a copy of the book Rembrandts olifant. In het spoor van Hansken (in Dutch). Click here for an overview of all the places known to date.

You like to order a book? Please go to Leporello publishers.