Artwork of the Week: September 12

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Aquamanile in the Form of a Lion, 1953.74

Germany, probably Nuremberg, Aquamanile in the Form of a Lion (Vessel for washing the hands). Copper alloy, engraved, and gilt, about 1400. H. 12 1/2 in, Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1953.74. Gallery 19

The word aquamanile comes from the combined Latin words meaning “water” and “hands.” Commonly shaped like stylized animals, the intended purpose of these objects was as a pouring vessel for washing. Early examples were liturgical receptacles for ritual hand-washing before Catholic Mass, but they soon found favor in wealthy private households, where they were used for cleansing before and during a meal. The Museum’s lion aquamanile was filled through a hinged opening in the head. Originally a spigot protruded from the chest for drawing the water. A sinuous dragon combines with the lion’s S-curved tail to make a double handle for easier lifting of the heavy copper vessel.

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