The Horse Aquamanile in the Rijksmuseum

A ‘New’ Andalusian or Fatimid Bronze


  • Joanna Olchawa



One of the very remarkable vessels used for the medieval ritual of handwashing is the horse aquamanile in the Rijksmuseum’s collection of European vessels, traditionally regarded as a thirteenth-century bronze from ‘Lotharingia’. Because of its small size and unusual stylized form, with the emphasized handle and spout on its back, there is effectively no comparable object in the museum’s collection, nor for that matter in the larger corpus of Western European bronzes. More plausible is an entirely new perspective on the aquamanile, namely as an ‘Islamic’ object cast between the tenth and twelfth centuries in al-Andalus or in a region under Fatimid rule. This article demonstrates the significance of the unique aquamanile in Amsterdam in two key aspects: it can be added to the narrow corpus of twenty-one extant bronze vessels used for the Islamic ritual of lavation yet is the only horse-shaped aquamanile known in that context; as such, it allows the concrete study of the transcultural transmission of ideas and, by way of this mediating function, sheds light on the genesis of horse aquamanilia in Western and Central Europe.


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Author Biography

  • Joanna Olchawa

    Joanna Olchawa is a specialist in medieval art who is currently appointed as Assistant Professor at Goethe-Universitat Frankfurt am Main and Member at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (supported by the Hetty Goldman Membership Fund and the Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro Member Fund). Her doctoral dissertation on aquamanilia was awarded the Central Institute for Art History in Munich’s 2014 ‘Angewandte Kunst’ research award and the ‘Ernst Reuter Preis fur herausragende Dissertationen’ 2015 of the Freie Universitat Berlin.







How to Cite

Olchawa, Joanna. 2024. “The Horse Aquamanile in the Rijksmuseum: A ‘New’ Andalusian or Fatimid Bronze”. The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 72 (1): 4-23.