A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350

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Lot 39
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion
Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350

Sold for £ 68,666 (US$ 82,615) inc. premium
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion
Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
the beast with hairy mane, open jaw showing sharp teeth and zoomorphic handle formed as an undulating serpent-like beast, standing on paw feet, 27.3cm high, 25.4cm wide, 11.3cm deep

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private European collection.
    Purchased in Burgundy, France in the 1990s.

    Comparable Literature
    Otto von Falke & Erich Meyer, Romanische Leuchter und Gefäße, Gießgefäße der Gotik, Berlin, 1935/1983, no. 470, fig. 442.
    Ursula Mende, Die mittelalterlichen Bronzen im Germanischen Nationalmuseum, Bestandskatalog, Nuremberg, 2013, cat.no. 62 (with extensive earlier literature).

    The word Aquamanile simply means - from the Latin - a vessel (normally cast in brass) for washing the hands at or near the altar during the Christian Mass (communion service) or, for secular use, at a rich man's table. It could take many forms, but - thanks to the gradual evolution of the lost-wax process - quite elaborate forms became possible, frequently featuring animals in different poses and occasionally human beings in various actions.

    The water could be poured in through a hole (usually in the head and closed with a little hinged lid) into the receptacle of its empty hollow casting and, and when the beast was picked up by its tail and tipped forward, poured over the hands to cleanse them, from above and into a basin and carried away by a servant to protect the altar or table or the garments of the person involved.

    The first heyday of aquamaniles (aquamanilia) was in Hildesheim in the 12th and 13th century, and - from the numbers of surviving models it is clear that the lion became the most popular design, as here, with minor variations as to the treatment of its characteristic mane and tail. It had the advantage of being one of the simpler forms that lent itself to being moulded and cast with ease. The design was copied from an impressive Romanesque bronze lion on a monumental scale in the city of Hildesheim. This recalled the Biblical expression 'the Lion
    of Judah' and was a favourite animal in mediaeval heraldry on account of its prowess in fighting: apart from the almost continual wars between the nascent nations in Europe this was the also instrumental in the Crusades.

    A while after, Lübeck and Nuremberg became increasingly important with their serial production using the lost wax process. Around 1330 in Lübeck, there emerged a foundry run by Johannes Apengeter, to which a Lion aquamanile that is very close to ours is attributed in the catalogue of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg (Inv. no. KG581: illustrated above; and Mende 2013, as above).

    That version of the model shows the mane naturalistically growing from right under the animal's chin, whereas the present lion in common with several others, apparently has a type of bib around its neck, from under which the hair begins to grow. One suggestion is that it was perhaps to facilitate wiping the vessel clean and dry round the spout that once projected from the mouth with a cloth during and after use making it more hygienic.

    In the opinion of Dr Joanna Olchawa of Frankfurt University, the current lot, typically cast via the lost wax process in one piece is without any doubt authentic and dates to around 1350. Although undecided if the vessel originates from Nuremberg or Lübeck, Dr Olchawa confirmed its originality by the thinness of the bronze to the cast and the typical small alterations, for example around the lion's mouth and teeth, which are not unusual for pieces of this age and
    rarity.

    Bonhams would like to thank Dr Joanna Olchawa, University of Frankfurt, for her expertise based on first-hand inspection of the object, confirming its authenticity and place and and date of manufacture.
Contacts
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
A rare 14th century German bronze Aquamanile in the form of a lion Lübeck or Nuremberg, circa 1350
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