The Middle High German lay of Aristotle and Phyllis probably originated in the 13th century in the upper Rhine region between Basel and Strasbourg. The story was a popular motif and is found not only in sculptural works, but also in tapestries and drawings. King Philip of Macedonia’s son Alexander, later called the Great, is educated by Aristotle. The young Alexander, madly in love with the beautiful Phyllis, is scolded by his teacher for his mental absence and warned of the dangers of love and/or women. Aristotle effects the separation of the lovers through intervention with the King. Musing on revenge beautiful Phyllis seduced Aristotle. As price for her love she demanded that she could ride around in the gardens on his back. Whilst doing so Aristotle is discovered by the Queen and Aristotle falls prey to shame and disgrace, because he could not meet his own requirements. He was exiled and pondered over the wickedness of the world.
Next to lion and griffin aquamanile a knight on horseback was a widely used form of aquamaniles . One of these I made earlier this year and cast it in bronze in my workshop. The original aquamanile is from the 13th century from northern Germany, probably around Hildesheim.
This object displays the impressive skills of the 13th century artists and foundrymen. The arms, legs and stir-ups are modelled full round, which adds quite a bit of complexity to the preparation of the casting mould; especially when we are considering that these moulds were not made like modern investment moulds, but by applying moulding loam to every bit of wax surface. The materials thickness of the bridle or stir-ups is in places less than 2mm in diameter. The knight is not modelled separately but cast in one piece with the horse.
Just as the griffin aquamanile this reconstruction can be seen in the newly opened European Hanseatic League Museum in Lübeck, Germany.
The casting of an aquamanile in original medieval technique has been a long term intention of mine. A year ago I made an aquamanile in the form of a lion that dated to the medieval period, however I did not have time to cast that particular aquamanile in a technique that can be considered medieval.- The model however was made with the techniques known to medieval artificers. It was made according to Theophilus Presbyter’s description in his schedula diversarum artium , a 12th century manuscript on artisan’s techniques. Theophilus’ chapter 61 on the making of the cast incense burners provides all the necessary information, with which an informed reader can go ahead an produce a formidable bronze (or any other copper alloy) casting. This information was used to prepare the mould for the casting of this aquamanile. There will be an article shortly on how to make the mould.
Casting a medieval aquamanile
The mould was prepared from loam and made three days before the casting. The wax model was molten from the loam mould over embers. The mould was subsequently fired with charcoal. The charcoal was allowed to burn down to the top of the mould and before it was charged again with fresh charcoal. This was repeated three time s, just as Theophilus tells us . The casting was accomplished through the feet; so the mould is placed upside down for the casting. It was cast with a quaternary alloy of copper, zinc, tin and lead. The alloy is CuZn13Sn8Pb2 and was prepared for the casting.