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Powder flask

Powder flask

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (South, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1580 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Walnut inlaid with antler

  • Museum number:

    67-1903

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 62, case 10

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This flask was used to carry gunpowder. Its intricately inlaid decoration matches closely that of a pistol also in the V&A's collection (Museum no. 612-1893).

Inlaid woodwork was expensive. The epitome of luxury was to own wooden furniture inlaid with antler or bone. Some of the most beautiful items decorated this way were also the most deadly: firearms, crossbows, and powder flasks. Inlaid firearms and flasks reflected their owners' status and were probably kept as much for display as for use. Some have probably never been fired, only admired.

Firearms became more and more sophisticated during the 16th-century and required a number of accessories to load and operate them. The main charge, placed in the barrel with the shot, was carried in the powder flask. Smaller priming flasks contained fine-grain powder for priming the pans of wheel-lock firearms. The flask would have been part of a set including other accessories required for a weapon including spanners for the mechanism, measured charges.

Like the pistols and guns that accompanied them, decorated flasks were costly items. Inlaid firearms and flasks reflected the owners' status and were kept as much for display as for use. Daggers, firearms, gunpowder flasks and stirrups worn with the most expensive clothing projected an image of the fashionable man-at-arms. The most finely crafted items were worn as jewellery.

Physical description

Lobed powder flask inlaid with engraved antler, the decoration ensuite with a wheel lock pistol (612-1893)

Place of Origin

Germany (South, made)

Date

ca. 1580 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Walnut inlaid with antler

Dimensions

Height: 12 cm, Width: 9.8 cm, Depth: 4.5 cm, Weight: 0.1 kg

Object history note

This powder flask was used to carry gunpowder.

Historical context note

Firearms became more and more sophisticated during the 16th-century and required a number of accessories to load and operate them. The main charge, placed in the barrel with the shot, was carried in the powder flask. Smaller priming flasks contained fine-grain powder for priming the pans of wheel-lock firearms. The flask would have been part of a set including other accessories required for a weapon including spanners for the mechanism, measured charges.

Like the pistols and guns that accompanied them, decorated flasks were costly items. Inlaid firearms and flasks reflected the owners' status and were kept as much for display as for use. Daggers, firearms, gunpowder flasks and stirrups worn with the most expensive clothing projected an image of the fashionable man-at-arms. The most finely crafted items were worn as jewellery.

Inlaid woodwork was expensive. The epitome of luxury was to own wooden furniture inlaid with antler or bone. In 1567 a student at the Middle Temple, John Petre, paid 30s for "a desk of walnutt tree overwrought with white wood, by the Quenes joiner". An inventory of Ingatestone Hall, north-east of London, in 1600 not only places the walnut bed with inlaid head, fluted posts and gilt knobs, in one of the grandest rooms, the Corner Chamber, but also describes it as hung with crimson, white and gold cloth with silk fringes. Under aristocratic patronage this technique produced items of breathtaking beauty. The fashion for bone and horn inlays took hold above all in German principalities but in England, France and the Netherlands, where ivory was used as well, this delicate work was also in vogue.

Where house inventories of the sixteenth century may give scant details in their listings of most items, inlays are frequently described so that there can be no doubt about identification. An "Inventory of the Plate, Household Stuff, Pictures &c In Kenelworh Castle taken after the death of Robert, Earl of Leycester, 1588" lists "A chess-borde of bone and ebanie, with thirtie and fower men to it, in a leather case" and "A par of tabells of bone inlaid, with divers colors and men to them, in a case of leather".

Some of the most beautiful items decorated this way were also the most deadly: firearms, crossbows, and powder flasks. Inlaid firearms and flasks reflected their owners' status and were probably kept as much for display as for use. Some have probably never been fired, only admired.

Descriptive line

Lobed powder flask inlaid with engraved staghorn, en suite with a wheel lock pistol, South Germany, ca. 1580

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Patterson, Angus, Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe: Proud Lookes and Brave Attire, V&A Publishing, London, 2009, ISBN 9781851775811, p. 76, ill.

Materials

Walnut; Antler

Techniques

Carving; Inlay

Categories

Metalwork; Arms & Armour

Collection code

MET

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Qr_O97393
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