The Wallace Collection

A Flint-lock Pistol of Louis, Dauphin of France (1729-6), c. 1738-44
Treasure of the Month - September 2009

A Flint-lock Pistol of Louis, Dauphin of France (1729-6), c. 1738-44

This exquisite firearm was probably made for Louis, Dauphin of France, 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 weapon 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 (the 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 were included in the collections of King Charles X of France and King George III of Great Britain.

The barrel, lock, and other steel parts of this piece 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 the Dauphin 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.

Further Reading

  • Norman, A.V.B., Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour Supplement (London: The Wallace Collection, 1986), p. 248-9.
  • Mann, Sir James, Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour (London: The Wallace Collection, 1962), pp. 579-80, pl. 195.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2009. Text by Tobias Capwell.