Lot 24
  • 24


100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Lion Aquamanile
  • copper alloy
  • 28.5 by 33.5cm., 11¼ by 13¼in. 
  • German, Schleswig-Holstein, or Scandinavian, 14th century


Erholm, Denmark, until circa 1935;
Mrs Major Brandt, Oslo, Norway, by 1935;
Ragnar Moltzaus collection;
by whom loaned to the National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway (inv. no. OK 307);
private collection, Switzerland


Oslo, National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design (inv. no. OK 307)


O. von Falke and E. Meyer, Bronzegeräte des Mittelalters. I. Band: Romanische Leuchter und Gefässe, Giessgefässe der Gotik, Berlin, 1935, no. 493, fig. 451, pl. 187;
S. Kasin, Akvamaniler. En undersøkelse av 21 figurformete håndvannskanner i metall fra middelalderen med tilknytning til Norge, MA thesis, University of Oslo, 2008, unpublished, p. 122, no 11


Overall the condition of the aquamanile is good with minor wear consistent with age and handling. The patina: Dr Jill Saunders, Plowden and Smith Ltd, 21 June 2018: 'The natural patina of this piece had been removed and inhibited by historic polishing and lacquering. To correct the aesthetic in keeping with the object’s socio-historic, and indeed artistic values, our expert used a bespoke solution which he made in-house containing ammonium chloride and copper nitrate. This reacted with the very upper layers of the metallic surface to form a thin layer of predominantly copper oxides with various other minerals responsible for the colour. The result was a mattifying and darkening effect – representative of the natural degradation of bronze which would be expected on a piece of this age.' Further comments (Sotheby's): the ears have been pierced/ drilled in history. There would have been a faucet at the chest, this has been removed and plugged. There would have been a lid on the top of the head, holes for a hinge survive. There are a few small original lacunae, such as in the proper left hind leg and in the corner of the proper left eye. There are various original slightly visible plugs, including four in the top of the head. There is a small stable break or joint in the tail. There are the remnants of little rods and spues at various points, such as at the sides and haunches of the beast: these are consistent with the casting technique and underline the authenticity. There is a very small hole in the chest. There is some pitting, such as in the underside. The patina is mottled to the underside.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Aquamanilia are some of the most remarkable objects to have passed down to us from the Middle Ages. Produced from the 12th until the 15th centuries, they represent the first hollow-cast metalwork pieces to be made in Western Europe since Antiquity. The knowledge of the cire perdue technique had been lost, and was not re-introduced to Western Europe until the renovatio of the 12th century, when trade routes around the Mediterranean expanded and contact with Islamic metalworkers increased. Aquamanilia were used during ritual handwashings, in both sacred and secular settings. Nearly all aquamanilia are zoomorphic in form, with the lion being the most common. The lion, in high medieval bestiaries already indicated as the first among all animals, and known as the ‘King of Beasts’ with exceptional strength, was associated with both Christ and worldly kings. Its use, both in ecclesiastical ritual and as an ostentatious showpiece on the noble banqueting table, was therefore apt. Most aquamanilia were produced in Germany, with important workshops based in Lower Saxony, Nuremberg, Braunschweig and Lübeck. However, a number of these vessels, like the present example, cannot be confidently attributed to those centres. Like all lion aquamanilia, the present piece shares certain features with the famous Braunschweig lion (Barnet and Dandridge, op. cit. p. 14), including the individually lobed locks of hair of the mane, and the stance with the hind legs stretching out below the body. Even closer comparison can be made with those lions produced in Lübeck and across the Schleswig-Holstein region during the fourteenth century. Ursula Mende (op. cit) convincingly attributes a group of lion aquamanilia and door-knockers to this region, where workshops operated within the circle of Johann Apengeter (before 1300-after 1351). The aquamanilia within this group are distinguished, most importantly, by the collar-like band around the head, which terminates in the large round ears. Further distinctions include the close-set almond-shaped eyes, the handle in the shape of a dragon, and the tail with several knobs. Prime examples of this group are the lion aquamanile in the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin (inv. no. 17,105) and the Samson and the Lion in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (inv. no. 40.233; see Barnet and Dandridge, op. cit., no. 16 and Brandt, op. cit., no. 49).

The present Lion Aquamanile, sharing many of the features of the Lübeck group, is likely to have originated in the same region. Compare also to Falke and Meyer, op. cit., images 446-450. However, Falke and Meyer identify a group of five lions, cat. nos. 493-497, including the present Lion, as seemingly more provincial, and therefore possibly manufactured in Scandinavia (op. cit. p. 76-77). They base this distinction from the Northern German lions on a certain heaviness in the execution, the detailing on the collar and the legs, and the fact that these were all preserved in Scandinavian localities, including the National Museum in Copenhagen and the Brandt Collection in Oslo. Mende (op. cit., p. 99) states that due to Hanseatic trade around the Baltic Sea during the fourteenth century, the influence of the Apengeter workshop is likely to have spread to Scandinavian countries in the region, such as Denmark, but she considers it more likely that the finished aquamanilia, produced in Schleswig-Holstein, were then traded throughout the Baltic Sea region. Falke and Meyer acknowledge in their seminal work that firmly determining the origin of these items is very difficult. However, the present Aquamanile, of impressive stature and size, presents the rare opportunity to acquire a published aquamanile of exceptional quality.

U. Mende, Die Türzieher des Mittelalters, Denkmäler deutscher Kunst, Bronzegeräte des Mittelalters, vol. 2, Berlin, 1981. p. 90-98; O. ter Kuile, Koper & Brons, cat. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 1986, no. 12, p. 16; P. Barnet and P. Dandridge, Lions, Dragons, & Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006, pp. 3-17, no. 16; M. Brandt (ed.), Bild & Bestie, Hildesheimer Brozen des Stauferzeit, exh. cat. Dom-Museum Hildesheim, Hildesheim, 2008, cat. nos. 12, 38 and 49