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The fish-shaped powder flask is made of bronze. The container has a hollow interior and a small hole at the mouth for inserting gunpowder, which could be kept dry inside the flask. The back of the fish has a metal ring for fastening the flask on a belt. The body is engraved with foliated clematis (Chinese tiexianlian) and other designs. The entire piece is gilded while the eyes are inlaid rubies.
A set of three pouches accompany the powder flask. Designed to be attached to a belt, the pouches are made of leather with exterior silk padding woven with flat gold thread and seed pearls, glass beads, and gems that form a splendid floral design.
The patterns—especially the clematis—have a rich Indian style commonly seen in jades, paintings, and textiles of the same period from the Mughal Empire (1526–1858). Using inlaid rubies for fish eyes is a technique seen in Mughal jades and other objects. Judging from the craftsmanship and style, the set of pouches with the fish-shaped powder flask were made in India.
The set is stored in a wood case made by artisans of the Qing court. The interior has a notch designed for the flask. The surface of the case has an inscription in four scripts. The Chinese inscription indicates how the sixth Panchen Lama presented the set of ammunition pouches with the powder flask as a gift to the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795) at the Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshou gong) in the Forbidden City on the twenty-seventh day of the tenth lunar month of the forty-fifth year (1780) of his reign. The inscription describes the objects as having originated in Sindhu (Chinese Xizhu, i.e., India). Indeed, the Panchen Lama spared no effort to obtain this gift from the distant land for presentation to the Qianlong Emperor. In the archives of the Imperial Household Department’s workshops called Records of Palace Works (Huoji dang), in addition to describing the process of crafting the wood case, these objects were recorded as “foreign bronze gunpowder calabash with nine-dragon pouch made with floral patterns in gold thread and seed pearls”.
Chinese entry by Ma Shengnan
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying