Powder Flask

Date: late 17th century

Culture: German

Medium: Ivory, silver, gold, steel

Dimensions: H. 5 3/4 in. (14.5 cm); Diam. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm)

Classification: Firearms Accessories-Flasks & Primers

Credit Line: Gift of Bernice and Jerome Zwanger, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.479.2


Powder flasks were used as portable containers for loose gunpowder until the widespread adoption of cartridge ammunition in the mid-nineteenth century. In material and craftsmanship, such flasks frequently matched the firearms they accompanied, including the richly decorated weapons carried by the aristocracy. In central Europe in the seventeenth century, ivory was particularly prized for hunting equipment, and elaborately carved ivory flasks achieved a status as independent works of art.

The Museum's flask, the first European example in ivory to enter its collection, complements a number of ivory-embellished arms among our holdings, most importantly two hunting guns signed by the renowned sculptor Johann Michael Maucher (1645–1701) of Schwäbisch-Gmünd. Unlike most other German Baroque powder flasks, which are typically carved in robust high relief with dense compositions of fighting animals, this unusual and particularly distinguished specimen is carved in low relief with tiny figural compositions that are more pictorial than sculptural. Its face displays four oval frames enclosing three scenes of equestrian figures in wooded landscapes and one of target-shooting, all set around a circular frame enclosing three conjoined figures of huntsmen arranged in a spiral. The silver-gilt nozzle and its blued-steel spring provide colorful accents to the warm tone of the ivory.