“Discovering” a Medieval candlestick in the collection of the Walters Art Museum

Julie A. Lauffenburger


In 1935 a seminal work on medieval metalwork was published in Germany illustrating a variety of fantastic yet functional objects from Northern Europe that included candlesticks, small decorative sculpture and plaques and a subset of functional art known as aquamanilia. Aquamanilia, Latin for ‘water’ and ‘hands’, are hollow vessels used in both secular and religious settings for the ritual washing of hands. Though there are hundreds in existence, still aquamanilia are a little known object existing in only a handful of American museums with sizeable medieval collections. But to turn of the century collectors like William and Henry Walters, they were an irresistible find.

Recent scholarship has confirmed several fakes or later reproductions among this small subset of bronzes, and it is in this context that the Walters collection will be examined. This paper will introduce the Walters’ collection of six aquamanilia and two prickets that come from both the European and Islamic Medieval period. It will then focus on a discussion of two prickets that take the form of Samson and the Lion and how in light of new technical research one that has always been relegated to storage as a fake, received some renewed attention.

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2007 | Richmond | Volume 14