Archive practical metallurgy | archaeometallurgy
Aug 11 2014

Peter Vischer the Elder, famous sculptor and Meister Rothschmied

Bastian Asmus

Peter Vischer (1455-1529) from the shrine of Saint Sebald, Nuremberg.

Details of a second cast of a self-portrait of Peter Vischer (1455-1529) from the shrine of Saint Sebald, Nuremberg. Original size of head: 6 cm.

I know the title says Peter Vischer the Elder, however this is a post on one piece of his work only: namely the self portrait of Peter Vischer. When I returned from a fantastic conference on Medieval Copper, Bronze and Brass in Dinant and Namur, Belgium,  I remembered that back in the nineties I had to make journeyman’s piece towards the end of my apprenticeship as an artistic bronze founder. This journeyman’s piece is the self portrait of Peter Vischer the Elder, the other two where portrait medals of Martin Luther and Albrecht Dürer, cast in a specialised medal casting technique. The self-portrait of Vischer is located at the front end of the shrine of Saint Sebald. The shrine was commissioned in 1499 and was finished in 1519. Peter Vischer the Elder was granted the title of  a master in the Rothschmied Handwerk in 1489. The Rotschmied or Rotgießer could be literally translated as red smith or red caster. Although the name would suggest the Rotgießer were obliged to work with red metals, such as copper and  copper-tin alloys only, or the Gelbgießer was obliged to work only with yellow metal, i.e. brass, this was not so: Many Rotgießer were working with brass and/or red brass as well. There was a distinction between the Rot- and the Gelbgießer, though and that had to do with the preferred moulding material: Rotgießer were working with moulding loam and Gelbgießer with moulding sand . Red casters were also casting larger objects than the Gelbgießer. It is most likely that there was no clear cut boundary between the two casting trades.

The self-portrait of Peter Vischer the Elder

Selbstbildnis des Peter Vischer (1455-1529)Coming back to the self-portrait of Peter Vischer the Elder: Here I show a few aspects of the raw cast and explain why this piece secured me the first prize in the competition of the chamber of handicrafts in Germany: The cast is near flawless. It was cast in one piece in the lost wax technique. There are only four core supports, two of which are the nails seen in the images. Self-portrait of Peter Vischer (1455-1529)The other two were placed in the top of the head and near the bottom of the hem at the backside. The gating system is attached in a manner as to leave the original surface fully intact. I left this piece in this state, because it shows the surface quality that can be achieved. The brownish colour stems from the various oxides of copper and tin, that develop upon contact with the moulding material and form a thin skin, which can be easily removed by ways of filing, scraping, or pickling.


Gelbgiesser. (1789). In J. G. Krünitz (Ed.), Oekonomische Enzylopädie, oder allgemeines System der Staats-, Stadt-, Haus-, und Landwirtschaft, in alphabetischer Reihenfolge (Vol. 16, pp. 736--745). University of Trier.

Mar 6 2014

Course on prehistoric bronze casting

Bastian Asmus

BIld eines frisch gegossenen Bronzebeils

This is a hands-on experiential archaeology course in one of the most important Celtic hill-top fortifications in central Europe: The Heuneburg in south western Germany. On April 26/27 we are holding an intensive course on the archaeometallurgy of bronze with loads of information to go alongside the practical experience of casting bronze the ancient way.

It has been my main objectives to foster the first hand experience of metallurgical processes alongside the scientific study of past archaeometallurgical activities. Together with the Heuneburg Open Air Museum we are now busy  developing the Heuneburg Academy, where hands-on experience is thought of as an equally important aspect of archaeometallurgy, as is for example scientific archaeology or archaeology. Only through an transdisciplinary approach will we able to better understand our forebears.

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Jun 27 2013

Lion aquamanile

Bastian Asmus

A lion aquamanile from Halberstadt, Germany
Portrait of a bronze lion aquamanile

The lion aquamanile you can see here I modelled after the aquamanile from Halberstadt. It is to date one of the very few aquamaniles that is still in its original context (Mende 2008). Aquamaniles, somtimes also referred to asaquamanale, aquimanile, aquamnilia is composed of the the two latin words aqua, for waterr und manus, for hand. The term aquamanile was used differently in medieval times than today: it mostly referred to the receptables of the water in the form of dishes or bowl. In contrast the vessel for pouring water was called urceus, i.e. latin for ewer (Wolter-von dem Knesebeck 2008, 217). Aquamaniles were used for the ritual cleansing of the priest before the mass. Apart from this ecclesiastic use aquamaniles were also to be found in secular households of high social status where they were used before meals.

Lion aquamanile

Detail shot of the wax model

During the last month or so I modelled this 13th century aquamanile and cast it in bronze in my casting workshop using the lost wax technique. The model was made from wax and was prepared over a core of loam, just as it was described by the benedictine monk and artificer Theophilus Presbyter in his schedula diversarum artium in the chapter on the production of the cast incense burner. See here how the  article on the casting of the aquamanile  went in the reconstructed medieval loam mould.

To this end wax plates were applied to the loam core. This is also described by Theophilus. An alternative way to produce a wax layer of sufficient thickness would have been the repeated dipping into liquid wax. This however was not mentioned by Theophilus and therefore not used. After the wax plates had been applied the finer details, such as the mane or the eyes of the lion were shaped.

Lion aquamanile

Detail shot of the aquamaniles face

The aquamanile weighs 3,6 kg and holds 1.35 l of water. This reconstructed aquamanile may be seen in its original function at the events of the french re-enactment project Fief et chevalerie. Contact me if you would like to purchase this or any other aquamanile.


Ursula Mende 2008.
Catalogue entry 52 in: Michael Brandt (Hrsg), Bild & Bestie. Hildesheimer Bronze der Stauferzeit. 378p. 2008.

Harald Wolter-von dem Knesebeck 2008.
Zur Inszenierung und Bedeutung von Aquamanilien, in: Michael Brandt (Hrsg), Bild & Bestie. Hildesheimer Bronze der Stauferzeit. 2008.

Medieval bronze aquamanile in the form of a lion

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Dies ist eine Neuschöpfung des mittelalterlichen bronzenen Löwenaquamaniles von Halberstadt. Das Original ist im Halberstädter Dommuseum. This is a lion aquamanile that was made after the medieval bronze aquamanile of Halberstadt. The original is in the Halberstädter Dommuseum.