CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Hansken: Rembrandt’s Elephant

1 May - 25 July 2021

Hansken: Rembrandt’s Elephant

Exhibition: 1 May - 25 July 2021

Hanksen was the most famous elephant in the seventeenth century. The only elephant in Europe at that time, she travelled to markets, fairs and courts. When Hansken visited Amsterdam for the last time in 1647 she was able to perform thirty-six tricks. She could fight with a sword, shoot a pistol, carry a pail of water, put on and take off a hat, pick up coins and much, much more. Rembrandt saw her and drew her a number of times—a perfect excuse for The Rembrandt House Museum to bring Hanksen’s story to life again in this family exhibition.

Rembrandt (1606-1669), Adolescent Indian Elephant (Hansken), 1637
Albertina, Vienna

Hanksen’s story is amazing, but at the same time moving. She had to put up with a great deal during her life; she was forced to make long journeys and perform very frequently. This was compounded by the fact that nobody really knew how to look after an elephant properly. Present-day views surrounding this issue are also highlighted in this exhibition.

The exhibition is based on a concept by Michiel Roscam Abbing (the author of Rembrandt’s Elephant) and Anneke Groen. Hansken: Rembrandt’s Elephant features drawings and etchings by Rembrandt and his contemporaries, paintings and a digital map on which you can follow Hanksen’s route through Europe.


The museum made a 15-minute documentary about the exhibition with curator Leonore van Sloten. The video can be streamed through Vimeo for a small fee.