Rembrandt ~ An Elephant, in the Background a Group of Spectators, ca. 1637
This is probably a representation of the (Asian) elephant called 'Hansken' which arrived in Amsterdam in 1633 on a ship from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as a gift for the Prince of Orange. The animal was kept in Frederik Hendrik's palace in Rijswijk and in 1636 it was given to the stadtholder's cousin Johan Maurits who sold it that same year to a private person who taught the animal thirty-six tricks. From 1637 'Hansken' left the Netherlands on a journey through Germany and Denmark and Rembrandt may have seen the animal in Amsterdam before the shipping. The elephant is shown in front of three figures, illustrating its size. Another drawing of the same elephant dated 1637 is in the Albertina, Vienna. The elephant returned to Amsterdam in 1641 and was drawn again by Rembrandt in different poses between 1644 and 1646; the animal now looking older. The animal toured in France (1642-1646), Germany and Switzerland (1646-1647, 1649-1652) and died in Florence in 1654 (possibly drawn by Stefano di Bella, drawing now in Biblioteca Reale, Turin).
Curator's comments @ The British Museum