Lion Aquamanile

North Germany, first half of the 14th century
Copper alloy, 28.5 x 33.5 cm

Precious water

Pure and delicious

Fountain of life

The bronze water vessel in the form of a lion reminds us today of how precious water was and how carefully it was used in everyday life. A continuously available source in the form of pipe-fed water did not exist. Once water had been found, it was vital to check if it could be drunk. Water often had to be carried over long distances from trustworthy wells and springs to wherever it was needed. When looking at this beautiful aquamanile one can take a trip back in time in one’s mind’s eye to the early Middle Ages.

Metal artwork


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.

A wonderful eagle

From Bagdad... St. Petersburg

The caliphate Baghdad was founded in 762 and, together with the port of Basra, was the centre of the blossoming artisanal metal working trade in the 8th century. A beautiful vessel in the shape of an eagle, 38cm-tall, that dates from this period, is now in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The artwork is also exceptional in that it bears an inscription referring to the year 180 H (796–797) and the name of the artist (Sulaiman). As it has not been possible to decipher the name of the place it was made, this still remains a mystery.