Enquiry about object: 4676

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    Rare, Brass Toad-Shaped Flask

    18th century and perhaps earlier

    height (with stopper): 37cm

    Available Enquire


    UK art market

    This remarkable and rare relic from Tibet comprises a brass flask, probably for water and possibly for beer, which has been imaginatively cast as a large fanged toad or frog. The surface is pewter-like, probably from having been tinned. The form is unusual and only a few seem to be known in museums. The form does seem based on ceramic containers produced in China and referred to as pilgrim flasks. Pilgrim flasks are found in many cultures along the Silk Road but what is uniquely Tibetan about these examples is that the are in the shape of a toad or a frog.

    The rendering of the toad is naturalistic in that the creature’s contours and lumpy skin are realistically rendered. The association of toads and frogs with rain, water and fertility makes the use of this motif on a flask meant for liquids apt.

    The flask retains its original leather straps to allow it to be transported. These are threaded through loops on either side of the vessel and also through two apertures in the vessel’s oval-ring foot. The vessel also retains its original wooden stopper (published examples generally do not.)

    Pal (2003, p. 169) says of an illustrated example in the Norton Simon Collection that it is difficult to establish the precise time and place of manufacture of these toad vessels but suggests a likely 18th century dating. (The Norton Simon example can also be seen here.) Another example identified by Pal (1997, p. 186) is ascribed to ’18th century or earlier’.

    The example here is in a robust condition with ample signs of significant age. The foot has an old solder repair – perhaps a sign of the esteem that such a flask was held when in use: it was repaired rather than replaced. Overall, it is a fine example and with significant sculptural quality.


    Pal, P., Tibet: Tradition and Change, The Albuquerque Museum, 1997.

    Pal, P., Art from the Himalayas & China: Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum,Yale University Press, 2003.

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