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.