The aquamanile takes its name from the Latin words for water (aqua) and hand (manus), as it was intended for hand washing at table. Poured through a flap at the top, the water was later dispensed through the spigot in the unicorn’s chest. The flame-like tail is typical of aquamanilia cast in Nuremberg. Residents of the city were enthralled by unicorns, emblazoning their coats of arms with images of the beast. Nuremberg officials, however, sensibly decided against the purchase of a unicorn offered by the distinguished humanist scholar and physician Johannes Sambucus in the mid sixteenth century. The horn of the unicorn on this aquamanile has been replaced.
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Title:Aquamanile in the Form of a Unicorn
Geography:Made in Nuremberg, Germany
Dimensions:Overall to tip of horn: 15 1/2 × 11 1/2 × 4 7/16 in., 6.8 lb. (39.4 × 29.2 × 11.3 cm, 3085g)
Credit Line:Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964
Irwin Untermyer, New York (until 1964)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Arts of the Middle Ages: A Loan Exhibition," February 17–March 24, 1940.
New York. The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Medieval Art from Private Collections," October 30, 1968–March 30, 1969.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Highlights of the Untermyer Collection of English and Continental Decorative Arts," September 29, 1977–May 21, 1978.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300–1550," April 8–June 22, 1986.
Nuremberg. Germanisches Nationalmuseum. "Nürnberg 1300–1550: Kunst der Gotik und Renaissance," July 24–September 28, 1986.
Katonah Museum of Art. "Medieval Monsters: Dragons and Fantastic Creatures," January 14–April 17, 1995.
New York. Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture. "Lions, Dragons, and Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages. Vessels for Church and Table," July 12, 2006–October 15, 2006.
New York. American Museum of Natural History. "Mythic Creatures," May 26, 2007–January 6, 2008.
New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "Search for the Unicorn: An Exhibition in Honor of The Cloisters' 75th Anniversary," May-14-Aug-18-2013.
Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "The Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World," May 14–August 28, 2019.
Arts of the Middle Ages: A Loan Exhibition. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1940. no. 293, p. 83.
Hackenbroch, Yvonne. Bronzes Other Metalwork and Sculpture in the Irwin Untermyer Collection. Irwin Untermyer Collection, Vol. 5. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1962. pp. xxxviii, 25, fig. 96, pl. 93.
Gómez-Moreno, Carmen. Medieval Art from Private Collections: A Special Exhibition at The Cloisters, October 30, 1968 through January 5, 1969. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1968. no. 109.
Draper, James David, ed. Highlights of the Untermyer Collection of English and continental decorative arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977. p. 150, no. 285.
Meckseper, Cord, ed. Stadt im Wandel: Kunst und Kultur des Bürgertums in Norddeutschland, 1150–1650. Ausstellungskatalog. Vol. 2. Braunschweig: Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum, 1985. p. 860.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Germanisches National Museum, Nürnberg. Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg 1300-1500. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986. no. 21, pp. 140–41.
Schrader, J. L. "A Medieval Bestiary." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 44, no. 1 (Summer 1986). p. 17.
Benton, Janetta Rebold, ed. Medieval Monsters: Dragons and Fantastic Creatures. Katonah: Katonah Museum of Art, 1995. pp. 10–11, 36, fig. 12.
Wixom, William D. "Medieval Sculpture at the Metropolitan: 800 to 1400." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 62, no. 4 (2005). p. 41.
Barnet, Peter, and Pete Dandridge, ed. Lions, Dragons, & Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table. New York: Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2006. no. 25, pp. 158–161.
Dandridge, Pete. "Exquisite Objects, Prodigious Technique: Aquamanilia, Vessels of the Middle Ages." In Lions, Dragons, & Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table, edited by Peter Barnet, and Pete Dandridge. New York: Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2006. no. 25, pp. 38, 43, 50, 54–56; p. 38, no. 20; p. 48, no. 49, Appears in Table 1 of chapter.
Mende, Ursula. "Late Gothic Aquamanilia from Nuremberg." In Lions, Dragons, & Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table, edited by Peter Barnet, and Pete Dandridge. New York: Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2006. no. 25, p. 30.
Mende, Ursula. Die mittelalterlichen Bronzen im Germanischen Nationalmuseum: Bestandskatalog. Nuremberg: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 2013. p. 218 n. 4.
Morrison, Elizabeth, ed. Book of beasts: the bestiary in the medieval world. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2019. no. 66, pp. 181, 217.
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