Medieval sculpture of 'the might of Christendom' auctions in Paris

French auction house Piasa is holding a sale of art, antiques and curiosities later this month.

One item in particular which caught our eye was this exceptional hemispherical pond fountain made from Nembro marble. It is carved in high relief around four heads, whose mouths open act as spillways.

These heads are all different and expressive, representing Christ, a grimacing mask with ram's horns, a bearded warrior helmet adorned with a cross moline and a female warrior wearing a helmet with a spherical cap.

It is believed to have been made in Northern Italy, in the late 12th or early 13th century and is 30cm tall and 70cm in diameter. Sourced from the mountains of Lombardy, Nembro marble stone, with its yellow and pearly hues, has been used extensively in the Middle Ages in cathedrals, churches and convents of northern Italy.

Several basins of the same model can be seen in Italy and were created during the 13th to the early 14th century. This basin probably belonged to a fountain cloister but could also be part of a funerary monument.

The sculpted heads obviously have a symbolic meaning that can be put in relation with the turbulent history of northern Italy during the two centuries following the first Christian millennium.

 If we take as read the sign of the Cross, Christ's head must be linked with the head opposite that of the old warrior wearing a helmet marked with a cross moline, probably a "Crociato", underlining the links between the Church and the Christian kings of the Crusades.

Pond basin sculpture
Pond basin sculpture

Similarly, the head of the young warrior wearing a helmet is Germanic midline grinning mask symbolising evil.

Presumably, this fountain was made to commemorate the victory of a King or a Queen, evoking the victorious military powers of Christendom or that of the Roman Germanic even when the victory was brutal and cruel.

The symbolism is also found in the sculptures and bas-reliefs of several cathedrals, churches and monuments of the Po Valley, the subject of alliances and battles in this region, the traditional terrain of confrontation between the Christian Roman Empire and Christian Germanic Empire.

The historic and fascinating piece is expected to bring €25,000-35,000 in Piasa's auction which takes place in Paris and online on January 21.


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