Medieval, late 13th century AD
For washing hands at table
Aquamaniles were used for the washing of hands at table, together with a basin. Regular hand-washing during meals was necessary since the majority of people in the Middle Ages used only their fingers for eating and made a mess of it.
This aquamanile, in the form of a knight on horseback, would be filled with water through the top of the rider's helmet, and poured out through the spout on the forehead of the horse. Other examples of aquamaniles in the form of a horse and rider exist, including versions made from pottery. Those made from bronze were generally produced for wealthier clients, and the high quality of the craftsmanship of this piece confirms that it was probably a prestige item.
It was found in the River Tyne, near Hexham, at some point before 1853, when it was acquired by The British Museum. The knight would have originally carried a lance and a shield, both of which are now missing.
J. Alexander and P. Binski, Age of chivalry: art in Planta (Royal Academy, London, 1987)
J. Cherry, Medieval decorative art (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)