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Rembrandt’s Elephant

A book about Hansken

I was excited to find an article yesterday about an elephant named Hansken that Rembrandt painted. I had previously read that there was an elephant at the Congress of Westphalia, possibly brought for or with Madame de Longueville when she came to Münster in 1646. She was beautiful, wealthy, and far more important socially than her husband, the French ambassador.

I was sceptical about the idea of an elephant in Münster, to be honest, but this makes perfect sense: Amsterdam (where it was normally kept) was only a short distance, and this is exactly the right time (Hansken was born in Sri Lanka in 1630, brought to Europe in 1633, and died in 1655 in Florence). It allegedly waved a flag, played a drum, used a broom, and held a musket and a sword (separately) in his trunk, which fits for Hansken as well. Besides numerous sketches, Rembradt included the elephant in his painting “Adam and Eve in Paradise.”

Adam and Eve in Paradise, Rembrandt, 1638

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