Aquamanile Ram Jug

Medieval jug for hand washing before religious ceremonies

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This ram-shaped jug, or 'aquamanile', was made in Scarborough in the early medieval times (around the 14th Century). An aquamanile is a kind of jug made in the shape of an animal or human figure. It usually contained water for people to wash their hands before religious ceremonies. Most jugs like this are made of metal, usually brass or bronze, but this one is very rare because it is made from pottery and has survived for over 700 years without being broken! This almost perfect example was found by workmen digging out the foundations of a new brewery in Scarborough in 1854, as well as two male faces with long beards, probably from jugs in the shape of knights.

At this time, Scarborough had the biggest trade fair outside London. People would come from all over Britain and Europe to trade and these kinds of jugs might have been sold and ended up as far away as Russia, an amazing distance for goods to travel in those days - so supermarkets transporting goods from all over the world today isn't such a new thing! 

Another name for objects made in the shape of animals is 'zoomorphic'. This is a zoomorphic horse, the shape of a horse in handwriting. Handwriting as an art form is called calligraphy.

Discussion Ideas:

  • Materials have different durability properties. Talk about which ones are usually not long lasting and why.
  • Sometimes things are similar but have different functions and need to be made of different materials e.g. armour and clothing. Talk about the needs of armour and everyday clothing and which materials that existed in medieval times would be best suited to each need.   
  • Research how pottery is made. What materials are required and what processes does it have to go through?
  • What different techniques could be used to make something like a pottery jug?
  • What different religions require hand washing before prayer?
  • What other objects are commonly used in religious ceremonies today?

Activity Ideas:

  • Design an object that is used everyday today, and design it in the shape of an animal.
  • Create a bird image that is 'zoomorphic' using handwriting or by creating a collage from printed text.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Scarborough Museums Trust | 
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