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Mughal Ivory Priming Flask (Barooddan)

Northern India
17th century

length: 21.5cm, weight: 110g



private collection, London.

This ivory priming hunting flask, and fitted with a brass spring mechanism, is carved with lively hunting-related themes probably inspired by Persian art. The head of the flask has been decorated with the heads of two long-horned antelopes. The end is carved as a fleeing antelope with a lion head and an elephant head.

The body of the flask is decorated on both sides in a naturalistic with an antelope jumping through Ottoman-inspired Mughal flowering shrubbery, together with a horse’s head and a lion’s head. The eyes of the lion and the two antelopes at the front of the flask have black inlaid pupils.

The flask has been made in two halves, and joined around the middle with small ivory pegs.

The craftsman has used the naturally hollow tusk to create the container.

Such flasks are generally attributed to mid-17th century northern India. A related example is first recorded in the Danish Royal Kunstkammer collection in 1674 (Gundestrap, 1991, p. 281).

Such flasks were used to hold the fire powder used to ‘prime’ the flashpan and touch-hole of a musket. Once ignited, the priming powder ignited the gun or charge powder which caused the weapon to fire. The gun powder was carried in a larger flask, and the priming powder was carried in a smaller vessel such as the example here.

A less complicated example is illustrated in Desai (2002, p. 198), and similar examples are illustrated in Mohamed (2008, p. 286-88).

The example here has no losses or repairs. There is an old and stable age-related crack to the ivory on one side of the flask.


Desai, K., Jewels on the Crescent: Masterpieces of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mapin,2002.

Dye, J.M., The Arts of India: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2001.

Gundestrap, B., The Royal Danish Kunstkammer 1737, Volume 1, Nationalmuseet, 1991.

Mohamed, B., The Arts of the Muslim Knight: The Furusiyya Art Foundation Collection, Skira, 2008.

Okada, A., L’Inde des Prices: La Donation Jean et Krishna Riboud, Tresors du Musee Guimet, 2000.

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