An aquamanile is a vessel from which water was poured. In the ninth century, we begin to see these elaborately worked jugs appear in church records. They were used to pour water over the hands of the priest to be caught in a basin below. Most were of a heavy cast construction and were designed to stay in place while a spigot or tap was used to "pour". Aquamaniles were a sort of refillable fountain that could be tuned off and on when needed. They grew in popularity and the designs became more and more elegant, and often delightfully fanciful.

Most commonly cast in bronze, aquamaniles were also occasionally made from silver, or guilt copper. Silvered, nielloed and even enamelled, these vessels often depicted animals, fabled characters or Biblical scenes. The aquamanile eventually evolved for secular use during the renaissance and these items found their way onto the dinner tables of the rich. The vessels became lighter and became a serving item rather than a stationary one. No longer dispensing water, these jugs owed their capricious deigns to the aquamaniles, but little else remained the same. Copied in ceramic, silver, gold and pewter these jugs were the ancestors of the animal jugs we use today.

In the shape of Aristole and Phyllis
Netherlands. ca 1400 h. 13 3/16"

Lion trampling Vipers
North Germany ca 1200

Sword-bearing Centaur with dragons
German ca 1200


Unicorn with a dog on its back.
German (Saxony) ca 1400

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