Permanent Collection: Flasks

Mughal Brass Ribbed Flask, India, C17th


Height: 27cms

This simple, long necked water flask (surahi) is a most elegant example of its kind. Such objects were an early and prominent development of Mughal metalwork.  In addition, representations of surahi were frequently used as a motif in architectural decoration, featuring in the wall panels of Mughal  mausolea such as the Agra tomb of Itimad-ad Daula and in royal palaces, a striking example being the Jai Mandir mirror hall at Amber.  Michel offers excellent illustrations of this phenomenon (p.32-33).  Extraordinary bejewelled  surahis of gold, such as those shown in Zebrowski (p.68, p.70), were made for the Mughal court from the C17th onwards.  More frequently, examples are found in silver and a variety of bronzes and brasses.  Given its light and reflective appearance, this example may be of formerly tinned brass.

This piece stands firmly on a short, splayed foot, rising into a well rounded, slightly ovoid, vertically ridged body, suggesting a segmented fruit-like form of everted gadroons, a pattern described as 'melonate' by Zebrowski.  These segments gather at the base of a slightly flaring, faceted neck above a simple decorative band.  A later variant of this style of decoration can be seen in the bodies of the gadrooned ewers elsewhere in our collection (GNC2, GNC5).  The neck is balanced by a further circlet at its topmost point.

Zebrowski shows a number of examples of bronze and brass surahis, of which fig. 275 is the most like our own.  The similarities of design between the two pieces are sufficient for a C17th dating to be attributed to the piece in hand.  The Zebrowski example is tinned brass, which may also account for the luminous character of our piece.  Tinning, originally applied to copper vessels to preserve food from contamination, was also used for general decorative purposes.

The age of the piece is further supported by the gentle wear of the faceted neck, which over the centuries has achieved an almost transluscent patination and exceptional smoothness to the touch.  Slight areas of red coloration on the upper surface of the body probably indicate, as might be expected, the presence of copper within the alloy.

References and sources:
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance:  The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC4