Unveiling the Artistry: Tattoo Artists Bring Ink to Amsterdam’s Rembrandt House

Henk’s needle spins as he tattoos familiar lines of an Elephant on Lilian Rachmaran.

“Highbrow to lowbrow” is how the famous Dutch tattoo artist describes his latest project — inking sketches by Rembrandt van Rijn onto visitors’ skin to the building the Golden Age master once called home.

You can call it body art or high art.

Henk Schiffmacher’s whirring needle is seen as he tattoos elephant lines on Lilian Rachamaran’s skin in Amsterdam on June 19. The famous Dutch tattooist describes his latest project as “Highbrow to Lowbrow,” inking Rembrandt van Rijen drawings onto the skins of visitors to the building where the Golden Age master used to live.

The Rembrandt House Museum transformed one of its rooms into a tattoo studio for “A Poor Man’s Rembrandt,” a residency featuring Schiffmaker and top Amsterdam tattooists for an entire week beginning Monday.

Visitors can purchase a Rembrandt permanent memento for between $54 and $270.

“It’s a juxtaposition — a jump from high to low, from highbrow to lowbrow,” Schiffmacher said. “It’s fantastic that these two worlds can meet one another. It’s all about art.

The museum director Milou Halbesma explained that the event was a way to attract new visitors to this historic house and to bring people closer to the artists.

“It is a good way for you to have your very own Rembrandt,” said she.

The workshop was a big hit. She stated that the online bookings were all filled in 10 minutes. There are still some spaces available for walk-ins who wait to be called.

Henk Shipmacher tattoos an Elephant on Lilian Rachmaran’s Back in Amsterdam. Peter Dejong Associated Press

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.

Schiffmacher explained, “The canvas has changed.” The canvas can speak to you, be too active, float, or faint. Rembrandt never experienced that.

Rachmaran is a museum employee and was the person who first sat in Schiffmacher’s seat.

She got his version of one of Rembrandt’s famous sketches of an Asian elephant believed to be Hansken, which first arrived in Amsterdam in 1633 on a ship from Ceylon — now Sri Lanka — as a gift for the Prince of Orange.

“I love animals. I think they are so smart, spiritual, and impressive. Rembrandt even made Hansken, Europe’s first elephant,” she said.

The attraction on Monday was getting a piece by Schiffmacher between her other tattoos.

She said, “It’s an honor to have a piece made by Henk.”

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