A rare Flemish Bucket

A rare Flemish Bucket

This beautiful piece belongs to the large group of holy water buckets typically made in the Flemish and Dutch areas between the 13th and the 16th century.
These pails were produced mainly in brass and bronze and in different sizes: generally the largest ones were intended for churches, while the small ones for private devotion.
Water, and specifically holy water has in many cultures a rich symbolical sense: purification, healing, blossoming, life and fertility. This makes the religious and aesthetic emanation of these fonts extremely fascinating. Many examples of pails and other brass objects are very common in Flemish Renaissance paintings.


Left: R. Campin, Mérode Altarpiece, c. 1425. New York, The Cloisters (det.) | Centre: Bucket, Southern Netherlands, 1500-1525. Chicago, Art Institute | Right: H. Holbein, Kaisheimer Altarpiece, 1502. Munchen, Alte Pinakothek (det.)

This bucket, quite remarkable in size, shows the typical conical shape, and it’s still provided with the original large trilobed handle; furthermore, it’s rather interesting for the presence of the pair of female busts functioning as pivoting eyelets of the handle: only in the most sophisticated examples these buckets have decorated handle eyelets with figures, and usually they depict animal heads (lions, dragons or monkeys) or angels holding a shield.
Instead, it is definitely uncommon to find eyelets in the shape of Ladies busts, like those we find here. They appear like a tridimensional rendering of well-known late gothic portraits of Ladies, depicted in the Flemish paintings, with their face framed by their iconic pure white headdresses.


Cologne Master, Portrait of a Lady, Second quarter of 16th century. Philadelphia, Barnes Collection (det.)

 Buckets with similar decorative treatment are commonly represented in Flemish paintings, and some are still preserved in many different private and public collections such as the Art Institute in Chicago, the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’ Histoire in Brussels and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Brass Bucket, Flanders, circa 1500

Flanders, circa 1500
H. cm 37

Published in: A.E. Theuerkauff-Liederwald,  Mittelalterliche Bronzegefässe und Messingefässe, Deutscher Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, Berlin 1988, n° 88, pag. 144.

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