Bust Aquamanile

North German (Magdeburg)
late 12th–early 13th century

Object Place: Europe, Germany


24.1 x 17.6 x 18.1 cm (9 1/2 x 6 15/16 x 7 1/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Latten (83.6% copper, 7.2% zinc, 3.2% lead, 6% tin)

Not On View





Pouring vessel in the shape of a male bust with raised hands. Cast in one piece and chased. The bust is frontal, with large double-edged almond-shaped eyes, broad high cheekbones, straight nose with flared nostrils, and small straight mouth marked by several parallel lines. From the lower lids and arched brows, indicated by a thin incised line, emanate a series of short parallel lines. Small shallow depressions arranged at random on the chin and in two lines up the side of the face indicate stubble. The spout, decorated with three groups of two parallel lines, terminates in an animal head with long pointed ears, large eyes with lines radiating from their lower lids, pointed nose, and open mouth. Behind the spout is a circular opening of unclear purpose; at the crown of the head is a polygonal opening with a fitting for a hinged lid used for filling. Terminating in a band of tight curls, finely incised strands of hair issue from the central opening. Semicircular ears, oddly placed below their natural position, stand out from the head. The handle consists of a dragon with its jaw resting on the back of the head, paws grasping lower curls, and tail ending in a trefoil leaf against the back. The dragon’s head is similar to that on the spout and its body is marked with rows of short shallow depressions akin to those used for the beard and wings, grouped in a rounded area at the top with parallel curved lines below. Parallel diagonal lines indicate fur on the legs.
The open hands turned outward are an extension of bent arms held close to the body, which is clothed in a tight-sleeved undergarment (revealed by multiple incisions at the cuff) and a wide-sleeved outer garment. A narrow collar with v-shaped opening in front indicates a secular garment. Designs on the shoulders - a nest of short parallel lines between two longer perpendicular ones- could represent seams. An uneven chevron pattern of double lines within single bands circles the base of the bust, forms a cross on the front of the garment, and continues over the shoulders onto the back, where one end terminates at the trefoil leaf and the other adjoins the lower border. The slightly recessed base plate is probably integral to the object; two core pins (indicating lost-wax casting) remain in the head.


Michalkow, Ukraine. August Wolff, Heidelberg, Germany; November 5, 1931, posthumous Wolff sale, Helbing, Munich, lot 73, sold for 8500 M. 1935, art market [see note 1]. By 1956, Brummer Gallery, New York [see note 2]; 1965, sold by Ella Brummer to the MFA. (Accession Date: April 14, 1965)

[1] Otto van Falke and Erich Meyer, Romanische Leuchter und gefässe Giessgefässe der Gotik (Berlin, 1935), p. 109, no. 335, fig. 312. [2] The aquamanile was mentioned in a letter from Hanns Swarzenski of the MFA to Ernest Brummer of Brummer Gallery, New York (June 29, 1956) and was sold to the MFA by his wife, Mrs. Ella Brummer, in 1965.

Credit Line

Decorative Arts Special Fund