Lot 51
  • 51

A North German Bronze Lion-form Aquamanile Late 12th Century, probably Magdeburg

200,000 - 400,000 USD
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  • Bronze
  • height 9 5/8 in.; length 11 in.
  • 24.4 cm; 27.9 cm
inscribed in Hebrew, "T[his is the] d[onation of] t[he] y[oung man], Berakhi[ah] Segal [the Levite]."


Blumka Gallery, New York, 1996


New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002-2006
New York, Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, Lions, Dragons, and Other Beasts. Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table, July-October, 2006, no. 2, illustrated
Knoxville, The Frank H. McClung Museum, University of Tenneessee, Sacred Beauty: a Millennium of Religious Art, 600-1600, September 2007-January 2008, p. 27, illustrated
New York, The Jewish Museum, Culture and Continuity: the Jewish Journey, February- August, 2007 and June 2008-June 2010
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 2012-2013


Peter Barnet and Pete Dandridge, eds., Lions, Dragons, and Other Beasts. Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table, exh. cat., 2006, pp. 70-73, no. 2
Peter Barnet, "Medieval Lion Aquamanilia with Hebrew Inscriptions" Images: a Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture, 2009, vol. 3, p. 30

Otto von Falke and Erich Meyer, Romanische Leuchter und Gefässe, Giessgefässe der Gotik, Denkmäler deutscher Kunst. Bronzegeräte des Mittelalters, vol. I, Boston, 1935
Vivian B. Mann, "'New' Examples of Jewish Ceremonial Art from Medieval Ashkenaz", Artibus et historia 9, no. 17, 1988, p. 16
Richard Marks, The Burrell Collection, 1983, p. 99, fig. 27


Overall surface abrasions and some dents. Original copper pins and original repairs visible in some areas. Cracks on proper left side of chest and proper left side of body, some once repaired with solder. Soldered repair on proper left side of hindquarters. Proper right front leg repaired with very old pin. Proper left front leg and bottom half of proper left hind leg replaced. Left hinge loop and lid lacking from top of head. Small loss to neck of beast forming the handle. Much of tail lacking. Original patch on chest for removal of core material. Paws possibly filed down. Front half of proper right front paw lacking. Olive-golden colored patina. Marked NYMJS 96-37 in black between back legs and 2002.53 in red on bottom of proper right back foot.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The present medieval vessel is the earliest of four known surviving aquamanilia bearing a Hebrew inscription. Each of the extant examples are of lion form and include: one in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (acc. no. 53.25), another formerly in the collection of Mortimer Schiff and now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, and one formerly in the collection of Oskar Mulert, now in a UK Private Collection.

From the Latin aqua meaning water and manus meaning hand, aquamanilia served both an ecclesiastical and a secular function for hand washing. Early zoomorphic and anthropomorphic examples exist in both the present form, which was meant to be lifted by the handle, and forms intended to remain stationary and fashioned with a spigot for the flow of water. The centers of production were in the German-speaking regions of Europe from the 12th to 15th centuries. Here, the majestic stance of the beast, the tufted mane, the shape of the head and the distinct facial features correspond to vessels associated with late 12th century Magdeburg workshops in Northeast Germany. Magdeburg was home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the North. When the Jewish population was expelled from the city in 1493, the synagogue was converted to a chapel and the 13th century cemetery was destroyed. Jews were not admitted into the city again until 1671. Related casts from the ‘Magdeburg group’ are preserved in the Kulturhistorisches Museum, Magdeburg (acc. no. 82.30), the Danmarks Nationalmuseet Københaven (acc. no. D. 892) (Fig. 2 on the above right), and the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg (KG630).

In synagogues, aquamanilia were likely used by the Levites for ceremonial hand washing of the kohanim (priests descended from Aaron, brother of Moses). The inscription on the present lion commemorates the acquisition and donation of the vessel by a Jewish individual and appears to have been added after the original cast was made, probably around the 16th century, as indicated by the script.

The lion was a common symbol used in both religious and secular art. During the Medieval period, this beast was known as a powerful animal with a great capacity for compassion, particularly for the weak and submissive. In Jewish tradition, the lion is associated with the tribes of Dan and Judah, as well as Judah’s descendant, the great King David. Rampant lions, often in confronted pairs, are regularly depicted as guardians of the Holy Ark or the synagogue and decorate ceremonial objects.

The adaptation of this aquamanile illustrates the extraordinary free flow of objects and images between Christian and Jewish communities during the medieval period. Furthermore, similar vessels were created by Muslim craftsmen from the second half of the 8th century onwards and their designs and methods of manufacture clearly influenced European metalworkers as contact increased between the Middle East and Europe.