Germany. Wood , leather, iron.
The Saxon Electoral armouries, Dresden. Transferred with the majority of the contents of the electoral armouries to the Historisches Museum, Dresden, circa 1832. Possibly one of the five identical powder-flasks, each complete with its set of leather suspension frog (‘port-flask’) and bullet-pouch, which were included in auction sales from the Dresden museum conducted in 1919 and 1927, by Rudolph Lepke, Berlin: see for example lots 734 and 735 in the 1919 auction catalogue. A further single example had been sold from private ownership in 1891.
Of these examples cited above, one is now in the Royal Armouries Collection, Leeds, another was subsequently sold from the Keasby Collection, New York 1924, another was sold from the Folke-Elliot Collection in 1959, and another was formerly in the renowned collection of the late R.T.Gwynn.
Powder-flasks of this distinctive design formed a part of the uniform equipment of the musketeers’ contingent of the personal guard of the Saxon Prince Electors Christian II (r. 1591-1611), and also the guard of his successor, his brother Johann Georg I (r. 1611-1656). In keeping with the known examples from this series, this flask is preserved in near-new condition, the body retaining all of its original black ebonised stain and the iron mounts nearly all of their bright blue/black finish. The curved flat-sided wooden body was stained to imitate ebony, an exotic wood then notably expensive and much prized for its beauty and luxury status. The outer face of the body is carved in low relief with the figure of a soldier armed with a military spear, a weapon typically carried as an emblem of foot officers’ rank. The figure of the soldier is accurately shown in the elaborate puffed and slashed dress widely worn both at the end of the 16th century and at the beginning of the 17th century, shown complete with the officer’s sash and prominent rosettes then fashionable in the uniforms of North European state guards. Strikingly similar representations of soldiers of the period are found in the contemporary engravings and woodcuts of artists such as Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) and Jost Amman (d. 1591), and it is most likely that works of this type provided the model for the carvers of this series of powder-flasks.
This flask is correctly mounted by an inner hook and from plaited leather thongs at the sides onto its original leather suspension strap, the latter referred to in an English late 16th century account of military arms and equipment as a ‘port-flask’: see Barret 1598, cited in reference to a Saxon powder-flask of this type in the Wallace Collection, London (A 1284), see Norman 1986.
The upper portion of the leather port-flask is in turn fitted with a covered leather pouch decorated with shell-like pattern of applied pale leather strips. The pouch forms storage for musket bullets and has fitted provision for three prepared cartridges. Additionally noteworthy is the fine state of preservation of the leather parts, which are complete with the original thongs for suspension.
From an historic count of fifty, twenty-one such flasks and their leather mounts remain in the former electoral armouries collection in Dresden, now the Rüstkammer, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden: see Morstein 2012-13, p.128, cat. no. 61.
In addition to the Wallace Collection, further examples of Saxon flasks of this type dispersed from Dresden are preserved in most of the leading international public collections of antique arms. See for example The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Inv. No. 26.259.7), and another in The von Kienbusch Collection in The Philadelphia Museum of Art, see von Kienbusch 1963, cat. no. 721.
A further example, formerly in the Kelly collection, was included in the exhibition catalogue “The Sumptuous Flaske”, Houze 1989, cat. no. 22.
Barret, The theorike and practike of moderne warres, London 1598
Herbert G. Houze, The Sumptuous Flaske, exhibition catalogue, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, Rhode Island 1989
C. Otto von Kienbusch, The Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection of Armor and Arms, Princeton 1963
Sir James Mann, Wallace Collection Catalogues, European Arms and Armour, Vol. II, London 1962
Maria Morstein (contributing cataloguer), Churfüstliche Guardie, exhibition catalogue, Schloss Hartenfels, Torgau 2012-13
A.V.B. Norman, Wallace Collection Catalogues, European Arms and Armour Supplement, London 1986
Size: Powder flask length 19.5 cm / 7.7 in, Width 11cm / 4.3 in