The inscription reads: Mimma 'amala bi-rasm al-makhafab al-'ali al-amir al-taqi Saif al-Din al-Fakhri (Of what was made for his worship, the high, the righteous amir Saif al-Din al-Fakhri)
This flask was made by the order of a Mamluk emir. The nisbah al-Fakhri identifies him as a follower of a certain, hitherto unidentified, Fakhr al-Din. Three emirs with the nisbah al-Fakhri are known: Sudun, Bahadur and Baktash. All appear to have been high Mamluk officers. Two of them held the positions of na'ib al-sultana ("viceroy"). These are Sudun Fakhri, active under Sultan Barquq between 784-792/1382-1390, to whom has been attributed an inscription on the Bab al-Nasr in Cairo (Berchem, Max van: Materiaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum, Premiere Partie, Egypte, I.1, Paris, 1903, pp. 59-60) and Bahadur Fakhri, known from an inscription in Jerusalem dated 784/1382-83 (Berchem, op.cit., p. 219). Baktash is mentioned without title in a published inscription (Berchem: op.cit., p. 77).
The blazons on our flask cannot be conclusively identified. One of them is a tripartite medallion while the other represents a shield. Tripartite blazons are usually associated with emirs. An undecorated and uninscribed tripartite medallion on the facade of the portal of the Sultan Hasan mosque in Cairo (dated 757/1356) has, however, been associated with the sultan himself (Meinecke, M.: "Zur mamlukischen Heraldik", Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo, XXVIII, 1972, pp. 236-238). It has been suggested that this kind of blazon was used mainly from the 14th century, but that it goes back to prototypes used in the second half of the 13th century (Meinecke: op.cit., p. 237). The shield is also represented on blazons of the early 14th century, albeit as part of a tripartite medallion (Meinecke: op.cit., p. 254). The shield on our flask may have been an earlier form. That it may have been the principal blazon of the owner of our flask may be indicated by the fact that it occupies the prominent position next to the lid-opening.
The decoration on our flask is typical of that of the late 13th century. The lobed medallions containing court and musical scenes (one can identify figures playing the lute, the qanun, a harp-like instrument, and the drum) are as a type related to similar scenes on Syrian metalwork. The naskh style of the inscription appears to be Syrian or Jaziran as well. A link between Mamluk Cairo and Syria is provided by several metalworkers with nisbahs identifying them as descendants of craftsmen from Mosul. These artists were active in Cairo in the latter half of the 13th century as indicated by a candlestick dated 1269, now in the Islamic Museum, Cairo (inv. no. 1657, published in Atil, E.: Renaissance of Islam, Art of the Mamluks, Washington, 1981, p. 57-58, no. 10). A most important exponent of this early phase of Mamluk metalwork is the famous Baptistère de St. Louis (Louvre, Paris, inv. no. LP16, see Atil: op.cit., pp. 76-78, no. 21) with its variety of court and hunting scenes and animal friezes. From the mid-14th century the decorative repertoire of Mamluk metalwork changes considerably from a largely figural, naturalistic style to more geometric and epigraphic forms.
The quality of the decoration on this flask is excellent. Not only is it well executed, its arrangement on the surface of the body as well as the underside of the foot shows the great care taken by the craftsman. It is furthermore rare to find objects in such good condition. Most of the silver and copper inlay on this piece is intact.
It is conceivable that this flask once served as a scribe's sand-sprinkler, given the small mouth-opening. The remaining hinge suggests that this was also covered by a lid. All the features mentioned above, the protocollary inscription, the heraldry, the status of amir of its patron and its lavish and exquisite decoration justify the assumption that its owner must have once belonged to the upper ranks of the Mamluk hierarchy.