Museum Pays Homage to Rembrandt With Tattoos

Dutch tattoo artist Henk Schiffmaker calls the project 'highbrow to lowbrow'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 22, 2023 5:35 PM CDT
Museum Pays Homage to Rembrandt With Tattoos
An elephant tattoo, based on a sketch by Rembrandt.   (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Henk Schiffmaker's needle whirrs as he tattoos the familiar lines of an elephant on Lilian Rachmaran's back. “Highbrow to lowbrow” is how the famous Dutch tattoo artist describes his latest project, per the AP—inking sketches by Rembrandt van Rijn onto the skin of visitors to the building the Golden Age master once called home. Or call it high art to body art. The Rembrandt House Museum has transformed one of its rooms into a tattoo parlor for a residency it calls “A Poor Man's Rembrandt,” featuring Schiffmaker and other top Amsterdam tattoo artists for a week starting Monday. “It's a juxtaposition—a jump from high to low, from highbrow to lowbrow,” says Schiffmacher.

“And it's great that these two worlds can visit one another. Actually it's really one world because it's about art.” Museum Director Milou Halbesma said the event is a way of attracting new visitors to the historic house and getting people closer to the artist. The workshop has already proved a hit. All appointments available online were filled within 10 minutes, she said, though walk-ins might get lucky. Schiffmacher and his colleagues have adapted some of Rembrandt's sketches to make them suitable for tattooing—making lines thinner so they don't grow together as the tattoo ages.

They see similarities between their work and the artist's quick sketches—but there is one key difference. “The canvas is different,” Schiffmacher says. “The canvas can talk to you, move too much, float, even faint. That didn't happen for Rembrandt.” Rachmaran, who works at the museum, was the first person in Schiffmacher's chair. She got his version of one of Rembrandt's famous sketches of an Asian elephant believed to be one named Hansken, which first arrived in Amsterdam in 1633 on a ship from Ceylon—now Sri Lanka—as a gift for the Prince of Orange.

(More tattoos stories.)

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