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PAINTED BLUNDERBUSS

Place of Origin: Kashmir

Date: 19th Century

Overall Length: 534mm (21 inches)

Barrel Length: 305mm (12 inches)

Reference: 426

Status: Reserved

Full Description:

The decoration of this unusual 19th-century blunderbuss is spectacular. Polychrome scenes of amber-coloured figures and animals both in repose and in flight are painted over the wooden stock amidst bursting pink leaves and flowerheads whose gold outlines and contours contrast brilliantly against a dark ground of forest-green. A European (possibly French) flintlock mechanism is attached to the stock and adorned with fine lines and foliate patterns in gold koftgari, the remaining fixtures – side-plate, butt-cap and trigger-guard – all decorated en suite.

A Damascus-steel barrel is then secured to the stock by large domed screws visible on the side-plate, and chiselled at its breech with a symmetrical trellis of splaying leaves and circling vine stems in gold – a decorative scheme repeated at the flared muzzle which is the key characteristic of such firearms.

Another blunderbuss of this type is preserved in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (Inventory Number 3.O.-5871),[1] showing the same schema and a similar colour palette in its painted decoration, as well as a near-identical barrel and flintlock mechanism. Another, preserved at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (Accession Number 2604(IS)), may shed further light on the present example’s origins.[2] Presented by H H Maharaja Gulab Singh of Kashmir, it can be confidently dated to the early 19th century, and exhibits a highly similar short Damascus-steel barrel which has been adorned with cartouches of stylised foliate decoration in gold koftgari.[3]

Amin Jaffer’s cataloguing of an armchair painted in this style of Kashmiri papier-mâché work provides further context, including a quote from Emily Eden, the famous poet and novelist, who during her travels in the Punjab during the late 1830s lamented, “I had a great miss this morning of some trays and cups japanned in Cashmere.”[4] Similarly decorated items of furniture were used at the courts of the Sikhs, who ruled Kashmir from 1780 to 1846.[5]

 

[3] See also: Lord Egerton of Tatton, Indian and Oriental Armour, London, 1896, p.144, Cat. No. 762.

[4] Amin Jaffer (2002), Luxury Goods from India: The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, V&A Publications, London, p.48.

[5] Ibid.

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