Griffin Ewer thumbnail 1
Griffin Ewer thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery

Griffin Ewer

Ewer
ca. 1120 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

An aquamanile was a jug used both in the home and at church for washing hands ('aqua' means water in Latin and 'manus' hand). These jugs were made from precious metals, base metals or ceramic.

From the 12th century onwards aquamaniles depicting lions, horses, dragons and other beasts were very popular. This example represents a griffin, a fantastical creature with the head and claws of a lion and the wings of an eagle. In medieval times griffins were considered to be noble creatures, who acted as guardians and protectors.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Bronze, gilt, cast and chased; silver, niello
Brief Description
Griffin aquamanile, cast copper inlaid with sheet silver and niello
Physical Description
A Griffin Ewer, gilt bronze, cast and chased, decorated with silver and niello. In the form of a Griffin, resting upon two feet with an extra decorative support underneath his tail. The beast faces forward with wings folded. A design resembling a heraldic shield adorns each wing. The ewer would have been filled through the hole in the creature's tail (the lid is now missing) and poured through the mouth of the beast.



The griffin is a fantastical creature that combines the head and claws of a lion with the wings of an eagle. The western form of the griffin was influenced by the eastern senmurvs, images of which were woven into ancient Sassanian and Byzantine sillks imported into Europe.



In antiquity the griffin held a positive image as a protector and guardian. This continued into the Middle Ages particularly in Romanesque art, where sculptural forms of the griffin act as guardians on the facades of churches and cathedrals. The image of the griffin appeared less frequently in Gothic art.
Dimensions
  • Height: 18.7cm
  • Length: 12.5cm
  • Depth: 20.5cm
  • Weight: 2.36kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Object history
Middle Ages Exhibition R.F.2002/903

Canossa Exhibition RF.2005/481



Purchase



Historical significance: Only a few dozen aquamaniles survive: this is one of the oldest and most technically sophisticated, the cast copper alloy inlaid with sheet silver and niello (an ancient and skilled technique which goes back at least to Ancient Egypt). A companion to this piece is in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. It is in the shape of a dragon and has very similar technical finish.



Since its acquisition this piece has been considered an important work of medieval art. Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt, nineteenth century Art Refereree, architect and journalist wrote "so fine and historical a piece of metalwork seldom occurs for sale...designed and executed by a master of his craft (with) admirable hardiesse."



This ewer's Viennese counterpart inspired nineteenth century versions in silver and ceramic. It also influenced other nineteenth century objects. A Claret Jug (M.20-1986) made in 1877 is believed to have a form derived from a Vienna Porcelain Chocolate pot (eighteenth century) which in turn was derived from the aquamanile in the Kunstshistoriches Museum. There is no evidence however, that the V&A ewer ever influenced nineteenth century art.
Historical context
Ewers, often known as aquamanilia (from the Latin, aqua= water, manus=hand), are vessel used for washing hands. They were used in the church, during the mass, or in a domestic context, before and after meals. From the 12th century onwards ewers depicting creatures such as lions, horses, unicorns, dragons and birds were very popular. They were made in precious metals, base metals and ceramics.
Production
Made in Germany, or Mosan (the land of the Meuse River valley)
Subject depicted
Summary
An aquamanile was a jug used both in the home and at church for washing hands ('aqua' means water in Latin and 'manus' hand). These jugs were made from precious metals, base metals or ceramic.



From the 12th century onwards aquamaniles depicting lions, horses, dragons and other beasts were very popular. This example represents a griffin, a fantastical creature with the head and claws of a lion and the wings of an eagle. In medieval times griffins were considered to be noble creatures, who acted as guardians and protectors.
Associated Objects
Bibliographic References
  • Gereon Sievernich and Hendrik Budde (eds.) Europa und der Orient, 800-1900, Gütersloh : Bertelsmann Lexikon Verlag, 1989
  • Fortnum, C, Catalogue of Bronzes, London, 1876, p.112, pl.xvi
  • Hungerford Pollen, J, Gold and Silversmiths Work in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1878, p.23
  • Swarzenski, H, Monuments of Romanesque Art, London 1955 no.262, pl.115, no.266, pl.250
  • La Niece, S, " Niello; an Historical and Technical Survey",Antiquaries Journal, LXIII, 1983, p.279-91
  • Williamson, P, ed. A Medieval Treasury, London, 1986, p.137 and pl.9
  • Bloch, P, Aquamanilen- Mittelaterliche Bronzen für Sakralen ad Profanen Gebrauch, Weber, 1981, figs. 21 & 22
  • Barnet, Peter and Pete Dandridge, eds. Lions, Dragons, & Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table. New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2006.p.12, fig. 1-8
  • Mende, Ursula. Die Mittelalterlichen Bronzen im Germanischen Nationalmuseum. Bestandskatalog. Nuremberg: Germanischen Nationalmuseums, 2013. ISBN 9783936688627
  • Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
  • Luckhardt, Jochen & Niehoff, Franz (eds.), Heinrich der Löwe und Seine Zeit, München : Hirmer, 1995G.67
Collection
Accession Number
1471-1870

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record createdJuly 2, 2003
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