Copper in the Arts

December 2013

Rare Bronze Medieval Aquamanile Highlighted in New Exhibition at The Jewish Museum

Aquamanile (Hand-Washing Vessel) Aquamanile (Hand-Washing Vessel), Northern Germany, late twelfth century with later inscription, cast and engraved copper alloy.

Over the course of seven exhibitions, from 2013 to 2017, The Jewish Museum's curators will explore objects that highlight the breadth and diversity of the collection. The first exhibition in this series, Masterpieces & Curiosities: A Medieval Aquamanile, focuses on an extremely rare, late twelfth-century bronze lion aquamanile, recently acquired from the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection sale at Sotheby's in April 2013.

Aquamanilia are imaginatively-shaped pitchers containing water for washing hands. The later addition of a Hebrew inscription transformed this particular example into a Jewish ritual object probably for use in a synagogue. The exhibition examines the social contexts in which the aquamanile was created and used, and explores issues it raises about valuation, sanctification, and cultural borrowing.

The aquamanile is being displayed for the first time since its acquisition, accompanied by several objects that were similarly converted from secular to religious use-including a Hanukkah lamp created from a military helmet plaque and a pewter dinner plate adapted into an intricately-engraved ceremonial object for Passover meals.

The exhibition will also feature a large reproduction of an X-ray providing clues about the aquamanile's creation, use, and repair over its eight-hundred-year history. The Masterpieces & Curiosities series, organized by Jens Hoffmann, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs and Emily Casden, Curatorial Assistant, is scheduled to run through 2017.


The Jewish Museum, 1109 5th Ave., New York, NY (212) 423-3200

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