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
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.
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