The Latin origins of the term aquamanile—aqua meaning water and manus meaning hand—describe the function of this lively bronze lion. Such hollow cast vessels, often taking the form of animals, were used throughout Europe from the twelfth through the sixteenth century to dispense water for hand washing. Aquamanilia commonly served in liturgical settings, but this roaring lion, a well-known symbol of fortitude, is believed to have been made for secular use. The design balances the natural form and energy of the lion with an elegant stylization of features. For example, the tail, which would have functioned as the handle, is deeply incised with a distinctive, flamelike pattern of tufts that heighten the sense of movement while adding decorative richness to the surface. The superb quality of craftsmanship and the high nickel content of the alloy are characteristic of Nuremberg metalwork in the later medieval era.
From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Unknown (German)
Title
  • Lion Aquamanile
Date ca. 1425-1450
Medium Copper alloy
Dimensions Overall: 11 1/2 × 9 inches (29.2 × 22.9 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Brodie provided funds for the Spigot
Accession Number 2008.1
Department European Sculpture and Dec Arts
On View European: Medieval C263, Level 2 (see map)
Blumka Gallery (dealer), New York
Bulletin of the DIA: Notable Acquisitions, 2000–2015 89, 1/4 (2015): p. 50 (ill.).

Darr, Alan P. "Museum Accessions." Antiques Magazine (Jan/Feb 2010): 46 (ill.).

Darr, Alan Phipps, Yao-Fen You, and Megan Reddicks. “Recent Acquisitions (2007–15) of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Detroit Institute of Arts.” The Burlington Magazine 158 (June 2016): 501–512, p. 501 (ill.).

Rosenberg, Karen. "Sacred Works in Secular Places." New York Times (October 19, 2007): unpaginated (ill.). [https://mobile.nytimes.com/2007/10/19/arts/design/19blum.html; Accessed February 9, 2017]