Lion Aquamanile

Germany, Hildesheim, c. 1250
Copper alloy, 27 x 27 cm

Ink on bronze

Julius Goldschmidt

Art dealer and philanthropist

Two inscriptions in ink on the bronze itself refer to one of the lion aquamanile’s previous owners – the well-known art dealer Julius Goldschmidt (1858–1932). After the death of his father, Jakob Goldschmidt, Julius took over the successful art trading business based in Frankfurt that was a purveyor to the Russian Court up until World War I. Julius Goldschmidt displayed particular expertise in the sale of silver objects dating from the Gothic and the Renaissance. His most important customers included the Rothschild family with its many branches that he also advised on purchases. However, Julius Goldschmidt was not just a successful businessman but also a philanthropist, financial assisting the poor in the city through a variety of different foundations. As such, he was an important member of society in Frankfurt.

Do not forget... wash hands

Hygiene in the Middle Ages

Washing hands before meals has been a customary practice since Antiquity. Frequently the feet were cleansed before a meal or even the whole body. By the early Middle Ages the cultivated table manners of Antiquity had, however, slipped into oblivion. This changed slowly and table manners were introduced. The most important one of all was the washing of hands before eating – one reason being that several people often helped themselves to food with their fingers from one bowl used by everyone. Both the host and the guests wanted to ensure that everyone had clean hands. Before meals, servants produced jugs of water, hand basins and towls for everybody to wash their hands. Napkins, by the way – that were both familiar and popular in Antiquity – only reappeared in European dining rooms in the 15th century. Until such time mucky fingers were simply wiped on people’s clothing.

Metal artwork

Hollow cast

Oriental technique

The prerequisite for making an aquamanile was a mastery of the lost-wax casting technique. This was a method that scarcely anyone in the west mastered at that time. The casting process is described in detail in the work Schedula diversarum artium that appeared between 1100 and 1120 and was probably written by a skilled artisan monk called Roger of Helmarshausen, better known under the pseudonym Theophilus Presbyter. The frequency of lost-wax casts in Helmarshausen in the early 12th century is especially striking. In his Schedula, Theophilus refers to the knowledge and skills of artists from the Orient. In Hildesheim, the cast bronze technique reached its heyday at an early date under Bishop Bernward (983–1022) who commissioned a two-leaf bronze door for the west portal of Hildesheim Cathedral in 1015. It is considered one of the major works of Ottonian art and still testifies to the exceptional artistic skill of the bronze founders to this day.