Aquamanile in the Form of a Dragon

Date: ca. 1200

Culture: North German

Medium: Copper alloy

Dimensions: Overall: 8 3/4 x 7 1/4 in., 4.4 lb. (22.2 x 18.4 cm, 2 kg)
Overall PD: 8 3/8 x 4 3/8 x 7 3/16 in. (21.2 x 11.1 x 18.2 cm)
Thickness PD: 3/25 in. (0.3 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Copper alloy

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1947

Accession Number: 47.101.51


The dragon, a north German work of about 1200, stands upright on its two feet with its wings extended back to take some of the weight and provide balance. The long, hollow tail curls up to the back of the neck and divides into two sections. A square hole in the tail allows the aquamanile to be filled with water; the hinged cover for this opening is now missing. The upper half of a cowled male figure emerges from the dragon's mouth—the folded hood serves as the water spout—and he grasps the upper lips of the dragon. It is unclear whether the figure, possibly a monk, is in the process of being swallowed or, perhaps less likely, successfully escaping the beast. Struggles between men and beasts, both real and fantastic, can be found throughout twelfth- and thirteenth-century art. Although the hapless figure in the jaws of our dragon is not absolutely identifiable as a monk, it is likely that the aquamanile functioned to some degree as a reminder of life's many perils.