The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Flint-lock pistol
  • Flint-lock pistol
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • France
  • c. 1660
  • Steel, gold, blued, walnut and wood, overlaid, blued, engraved and carved
  • Length: 59.7 cm, overall
    Length: 41.4 cm, barrel
    Weight: 0.8 kg
    Width: 1.2 cm, calibre
  • Inscription: 'Ut pellem Alcides devicti snsigne Leonis / Sic Ludovicus ouans (sic) Belgica signa gerit / Sunt nobis Lilia cordi' 'As Alcides sports the conquered lion's skin, so does Louis flaunt in triumph the Belgic trophies. The lillies are dear to our heart'
  • A1210
  • European Armoury III
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • This extraordinary pair of pistols was made for the personal use of King Louis XIV of France. They are of the very highest quality, in keeping with the supreme status of their royal owner. The fine, faceted barrels are heat-blued and richly overlaid in gold, their whole lengths being powdered with the fleur-de-lys, one of the devices of the French crown. The stocks, of dark walnut, are entirely carved in high relief with, at the butts, depictions of Hercules fighting the Nemean Lion and, near the muzzles, Samson slaughtering the Philistines. The theme of Hercules’ combat with the Lion is echoed elsewhere in the weapons’ decoration through the use of lions’ skins, lion masks and clubs. Various stages of the combat itself are also depicted on the barrels.

    Each pistol also bears an inscription presenting Hercules as a personification of France, while the combat with the Lion becomes a metaphor referring to one of Louis’ campaigns in the Spanish Netherlands:

    (1)
    Belgicus ecce Leo Gallorum Alcide Subactus
    Gerionae Hispano tristia fata parat
    Sunt nobis Lilia cordi

    (‘Behold the Belgic lion overpowered by the Alcides of the Gauls presages disaster for the Spanish Geryon. The lilies are dear to our heart’)

    Here a victory in the Spanish Netherlands (the Belgic lion) is presented allegorically as the precursor to a greater political victory over Spain. In ancient Greek mythology, Geryon was a multi-limbed, multi-headed giant (a fitting description of Spain in the mid-seventeenth century) killed by Hercules (also called Alcides) as part of his Tenth Labour.

    (2)
    Ut pellum Alcides devicti insigne Leonis
    Sic Ludovicus ouans Belgica signa gerit
    Sunt nobis Lilia cordi

    (‘As Alcides sports the conquered lion’s skin, so does Louis flaunt in triumph the Belgic trophies. The lilies are dear to our heart’)

    Their war-like decorative scheme and inscriptions clearly indicate that this pair of pistols was made to commemorate a French military and political victory. It has been suggested that this was related to Louis’ conquest of the Spanish Netherlands in 1667-8, but this does not equate well with the earlier style of the pistols, nor does it agree with the specific content of the inscriptions. Louis had adopted his famous ‘sun in splendour’ device by 1662, after which point it would have been unthinkable for his personal weapons not to employ that emblem.

    It is much more likely therefore that the pistols were made between 1659 and 1660, as a celebration of the French victory over the Spanish at the Battle of the Dunes (also called the Battle of Dunkirk) in 1658 (‘the Belgic lion overpowered’). This was followed by the Treaty of the Pyrenees (‘disaster for the Spanish Geryon’) in 1659, which fixed the Franco-Spanish border at this range of mountains and as part of which Spain ceded parts of Luxembourg and Flanders to Louis (the ‘Belgic trophies’).

    Although these remarkable pistols are clearly of the very highest quality, the artists who created them remain unidentified. Guns and other works of art made for royalty were usually unsigned, so it is not surprising that these weapons have been left entirely devoid of makers’ marks.