This aquamanile in the form of a lion was probably made in the first half of the 14th century. The long-legged animal’s body is highly stylised. Its head and alert eyes take in the surroundings. Its chest is covered by a bib-like plate that reaches up to the ears,1 on which the letters H B S and G A D2 can just be deciphered. Below this is a thick mane, executed in voluminous, carefully arranged sections in relief over the animal’s body like a natural ornamental decoration. The delicate chasing is a naturalistic imitation of the mane’s structure. The lion’s slightly asymmetrical face is depicted very precisely; the eyes, drawn down to the sides, look upwards and are expressively modelled. Finely chased, hatched lines accentuate the eyebrows and the lines between the mouth and cheeks.
Further strands of the mane are suggested in relief between the upright, perforated ears. A dragon’s head peers out of the lion’s open mouth. This forms the spout of the aquamanile. The opening for filling the vessel is between the ears; the lid is missing. A second dragon stretches the length of the lion’s back and serves as a handle. It supports itself with two of its legs at the back of the lion’s head and holds onto the mane with its mouth. The body of this mythical creature merges with the lion’s flat tail with a leaf-like decoration that arches upwards. The origin of such exquisite ewers, cast using the lost wax technique, is to be found in the Orient. They arrived in Europe as a result of the crusades and the spread of the Byzantine culture. Aquamaniles executed in bronze soon became firm favourites among Romanesque sculpted objects in the Holy Roman Empire.
Our aquamanile is listed in the publication compiled by Otto von Falke and Erich Meyer, Romanische Leuchter und Gefäße der Gotik (Berlin 1935; cat. no. 493/fig. 451), that is still considered the most important reference work on this subject today. Erich Meyer dates this lion to the 14th century, not least of all because the combination of the tail arched upwards and the dragon handle did not appear until that time. Meyer also refers to the similarity in shape between the lion aquamanile and works made in the Hanseatic City of Lübeck, possibly in the workshop of the skillet caster Johannes Apengeter. All these lions have largely smooth bodies without any engravings, have an alert stance, are a combination of lion and mythological creature in the form of dragon handles, have erect ears pointing directly upwards and large, slanting eyes.
Erholm, Denmark, until c. 1935
Mrs Major Brandt, Oslo, Norway, by 1935
Ragnar Moltzaus Collection, thereafter on loan from the collection to the National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway (inv. no. OK 307)
Private collection, Switzerland