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Rembrandt's Elephant
Following in Hansken's Footsteps

By Michiel Roscam Abbing

Rembrandt's Elephant

The author’s detective skills coupled with his broad perspective not only bring Hansken to life but also cast light on an aspect of European cultural history that has almost been forgotten.”

Boudewijn Bakker, former curator of the Amsterdam municipal archives

Elephants used to be a great rarity in Europe: there were only a few elephants in the continent in the entire seventeenth century. Hansken, a female elephant who was born on the island of Sri Lanka and arrived in Amsterdam in the summer of 1633, is the most famous — and not just because Rembrandt drew her. Cornelis van Groenevelt, Hansken’s owner, earned a handsome living by teaching her tricks and touring the continent with her. Wherever she went, Hansken evoked amazement and admiration. People examined her, measured her and wrote down what they had seen.

Michiel Roscam Abbing tells Hansken’s story based on a meticulous analysis of the sources. He has reconstructed the route Hansken took. The traces left by Hansken in European cultural history also form a potent picture of the age. After Hansken’s death in 1655, her skeleton became the object of study, enabling myths about giants to be refuted. She was even used for the first scientific description of her species, Elephas maximus. As a follow-up to Rembrandt’s Elephant, The Story of Hansken (2006), which was also published by Leporello, this book is a treasury of new facts and insights.

Part of the proceeds from this book will be donated to the Marjo Hoedemaker Elephant Foundation. This foundation aims to help the elephants on Sri Lanka, the island where Hansken was born.


Readers can find an overview of the historical sources on Hansken at


Remarkable how a single circus animal can bring the Dutch Golden Age so vividly to life - De Volkskrant


Additional Information:

Published 2021 (Leporello) - Dutch & English edition

ISBN: 9789079624232 – 136 pages - Colour & b/w illustr. - Paperback

Rights: World

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