The Wallace Collection

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Flint-lock pistol with ramrod
  • Flint-lock pistol with ramrod
  • Jean Baptiste La Roche (+1769)
  • Paris, France
  • c. 1738 - c. 1744
  • Steel, gold, silver, whalebone and horn, chiselled, gilded, blued and carved
  • Length: 53.5 cm, overall
    Length: 35.6 cm, barrel
    Width: 1.6 cm, calibre
    Weight: 1.165 kg
  • Inscription: 'LA ROCHE A PARIS'
    Maker's mark
    Inscription: 'LA ROCHE A PARIS' Maker's name
  • A1216
  • European Armoury III
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Flint-lock pistol, the barrel of round section. The first five inches from the breech forward are occupied by a panel containing ornament chiselled in low relief on a ground of matt gold, consisting of an allegorical female figure below which are two amorini supporting a cornucopia and at the base a female head between two cornucopiæ. The chiselled decoration was no doubt formerly blued along the top of the barrel, a flattened rib runs towards the muzzle signed in gold overlay:

    LA ROCHE A PARIS

    On either side of this the surface is richly encrusted with gold ornament in the form of caryatid figures, trophies and scrollwork on a blued ground. On either side of the silver foresight is the royal monogram of entwined L's. At the muzzle is a small ornamental panel chiselled with scrollwork on a gilt, matt ground to correspond with that at the breech. On the underside is stamped a maker's mark.

    Lock. The lock-plate is chiselled in relief with Neptune drawn in a shell by sea horses, blued on a gilt, matt ground, and at the rear end with a trophy of an anchor, trident and rudder. Here also is engraved the maker's name:

    LA ROCHE A PARIS

    The cock is chiselled with a dragon, and a bar in the form of a crested helmet joins the neck to the lower jaw, thus making the cock one of ring-necked form. A similar bar, formed as a shell ornament, joins the lower part of the neck to the base of the cock. The circular head of the securing-pin is chiselled with the bus of a classical warrior. The underside of the pan is chiselled with ornament en suite, and the steel with rococo scrollwork. The heel of the pan-cover takes the form of a dolphin. The groundwork of all the chiselled ornament is matt gold, the rest blued.

    The design on the side-plate appears to derive from a Renaissance source. The lock has no external bridle. The side-screws fit into sleeves on the inside of the lock-plate.

    The stock is elaborately inlaid with scrollwork in silver wire, and is carved with foliage in low relief around the mounts and lock. The mounts are of silver chased with ornament in low relief, the groundwork gilt. In the centre of the butt-cap is an oval portrait medallion of King Louis XV. On either side are the figures of Mars and a river god, together with lions' masks. The openwork screw-plate is pierced and chased with a cherub's head, interlacing foliage and serpents. The scutcheon-plate is chased in relief with shield quartered with the arms of France-Dauphiné and surmounted by a Dauphin's coronet. On the bow of the trigger-guard is the bust of a classical warrior within a frame. The pillars are formed as the head and tail of a dragon. On the rear pillar is a small silver mark with is probably the poinçon de décharge of Paris (Carré, I, p. 111; Nocq, IV, p. 233) the fermier Louis Robin (1738-44). On the upper hand finial is a caryatid figure and foliage, on the lower, a trophy of arms and a helmeted head. The upper ramrod pipe has a flaming grenade and crossed trumpets, the lower, at the socket, similar ornament with the addition of a winged demi-figure. Whalebone ramrod with horn tip and steel ferrule pierced with rectangular opening for a piece of cleaning material.

    French (Paris), about 1738-44.

    Provenance: probably made for Louis, Dauphin of France (1729-65).

    The decoration of the lock, and especially the cock, is reminiscent of the designs of De Lacollombe, published in Paris in 1730 (Lenk, Flintlåset, 1939, pl. 128, 129). The Dauphin for whom this pistol is most likely to have been made would be Louis, Dauphin 1729-1765, son of Louis XV.

    Jean Baptiste La Roche is famous as a maker of fine firearms. He was Arquebusier du Roi and in 1743 succeeded to the logement in the Louvre, which had been occupied by Adrien Reynier le Hollandois le jeune. He died in 1769. In later life his son collaborated with him, hence many weapons signed: Les La Roche aux galleries du Louvre à Paris. There is a flint-lock rifle by him at Windsor Castle (Laking, no. 263) which belonged to King George III. In the Victoria and Albert Museum (M 2242-1855) there is a pair of pistols by La Roche with gold mounts which was made for Louis XV; in the Musée de l' Armée is a small pair of pistols (M 1279) made for the young Comte d'Artois, afterwards Charles X, and also a gun by this gunsmith (M 589). Other examples of his work are in the Musée de la Porte de Hal, Brussels, at Dresden (no. 737A), and in the armoury at Skokloster. In 1760 he made for the Duke of Burgundy un petit fusil ciselé enrichi d'or, garni d'argent (Maze-Sencier, p. 704).

    Blair, Pollard's History of Firearms, 1983, pI. 348.

    The complete set of designs by de la Collombe were published by Grancsay in 1950.

    For the La Roches see T. Lenk, Flintlåset, 1939, pp. 113-14; N. Støckel, I, p. 683; and P. Jarlier, Répertoire, 1976, col. 161.

    Jean-Baptiste La Roche was Jurand of the Paris Gunmakers' Guild from 1740 to 1742. He received his logement in the Galleries of the Louvre on 21st August 1743, and died in 1769. His son Jean, who had previously worked with him, succeeded him in his royal office on 20th August 1763. Weapons made during the partnership were signed Les La Roche aux galleries du Louvre à Paris. The gun at Skokloster was made for Louis XV and is a work of the 1730s. The pistols in the Victoria and Albert Museum (No. M.2243/a-1855), which are of about 1750, are illustrated and discussed by J. F. Hayward in The art of the gunmaker, II, pp. 182-4, Pls. 12-13. The pair of small pistols in Paris (Musée de l' Armée, No. M.I 729) was presented to the Dauphin Louis (1729-65) by the Corporation of Paris in 1734, as his first arms. The presentation, made by M. Ie President Turgot, Prévost des Marchands, is described in the Mercure de France, June 1734, p. 1339. They were accompanied by a fowling piece, also by 'Le Sieur Laroche, Armurier de Roy, demeurant à Paris sur le Pont Marie', and a smallsword with mounts by the goldsmith Thomas Germain. The pistols only came into the possession of the future Charles X at a later date. (Reverseau, Musée de l' Armee, 1982, p. 113, pls. 37 and 39).

    The gun in the Musée de l’Armée in Brussels (former Port de Hal; inv. no. 2653; Lenk, pI. 92, 1-3) and the pistols at Dresden (no. 737A; Lenk, pI. 92, 4) must have been made after 1743 since they bear the Galleries address, as does the gun at Windsor Castle (1904 Cat., no. 262; Lenk, pI. 92,5). The latter may have come from the collection of George III rather than being one of his personal arms. A double-barrelled pistol at Lövstad, Östergötland, Sweden, is also late (Lenk, PI. 93). Another pair of pistols by La Roche at Capodimonte is probably to be dated immediately before 1743 (Hayward, Armes anciennes, I, pp. 138-9, pI. XLIV.i).

    The mark NP in an oval is attributed by Lenk to Nicholas Pierron, the Parisian barrel-maker who, according to Magné de Marroles, died in 1735 (op. cit., pp. 113-14). It is presumably a variant of N. Støckel, II, p. 958, no.8062.
    The silver-mark, a fox's head, is that used at Paris for small works of gold or silver during the period 1738-44.

    2011
    This exquisite firearm was probably made for Louis, Dauphin of France (1729-65), the eldest son of King Louis XV of France and the only one to survive childhood. The Dauphin’s status as the heir to the French throne demanded that he have the very best of everything, from clothes and jewels to furniture, horses and weapons. This piece is certainly of royal quality and its power as a status symbol can only have been enhanced by the fact that Louis was still a child when it was given to him.

    It was made by Jean-Baptiste La Roche, one of the most famous gunmakers in eighteenth-century France. La Roche was Archebusier du Roi (King’s gunmaker) to Louis XV. Between 1740 and 1742 he was also head of the Paris Gunmakers’ Guild, and was granted an official residence in the Louvre in 1743. Other firearms by La Roche and his son Jean entired the collections of King Charles X of France and King George III of Great Britain.

    The barrel, lock, and other steel parts are finely chiselled with figures, foliage, and other ornament in the classical style, represented in relief against a textured background of matte gold, in the typical French fashion. The barrel displays a female figure along with amorini, cornucopiae, trophies of arms, and masks. The decorated lock-plate is especially impressive, bearing a depiction of Neptune driving a giant seashell drawn by seahorses. A coat of arms on the top of the stock identifies this piece as belonging to a Dauphin of France, while its overall style allows the date of manufacture to be determined with relative precision.

    The stock is elaborately inlaid with scrollwork in silver wire and carved with foliage in low relief. In the centre of the butt-cap is a profile portrait of the Dauphin’s father, Louis XV, wearing armour in the classical or ‘heroic’ style. The King had a very close relationship with his son, although they seem to have become estranged after several acts of disobedience on the part of the Dauphin, probably originating with the King’s refusal to allow his son to participate in the 1744 campaign in the War of the Austrian Succession, largely fought between the allied forces of Austria, Great Britain and the Dutch Republic on one side and France, Prussia and Bavaria on the other.

    The Dauphin pre-deceased his father, dying of tuberculosis in 1765. Despite never taking the throne himself, the Dauphin did establish a royal legacy, fathering three subsequent Kings of France: Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X.