Medieval hand washing bowls to clean up

An extremely rare group of medieval hand washing bowls will go under the hammer in The Cotswold Auction Company’s annual Christmas sale.

The group of four Limoges gilt, copper and polychrome champleve enamel gemellions – which have come down by descent to the present owner – date to the first half of the 13th century (circa 1200 – 1250).

Gemellions are shallow bowls that were used for hand washing during the Middle Ages, both by priests at the church altar and by wealthy households in a domestic setting at meal times.

They usually came in pairs, hence their Latin name ‘Gemellus’, which means ‘twin’. Often decorated with colourful enamels and gilding, gemellions are characterised by their jewel-like appearance and are adorned with Gothic figures, animals and heraldic devices.

Similar examples to those on sale can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Each of the four examples in the sale is estimated at £7,000 to £10,000.

The Cotswold Auction Company’s special Christmas sale will be held at its Chapel Walk saleroom in Cheltenham on Tuesday, December 12. Director of The Cotswold Auction Company Lindsey Braune, said: “These are truly exceptional artefacts which rarely come onto the market. We feel so privileged to have not just one, but four surviving examples for sale in our Christmas auction. It is very unusual to find objects of this age in such wonderful condition coming up for sale. It would be fair to say that we expect considerable interest from both private collectors and institutions.”