dimanche 24 septembre 2023 13:00
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The extraordinary gold sword of Constantin GRAVIER, comte de Vergennes, captain-colonel of the Gardes de la Porte 1815.

On September 30, 1815, King Louis XVIII decreed the dissolution of the Gardes de la Porte company. On this occasion, Constantin GRAVIER, comte de Vergennes, captain-colonel of this prestigious company, received a gold sword in commemoration of his long service in the guards.

This gift, probably of royal origin, takes the form of a magnificent sword with a finely chased gold hilt depicting illustrious royalty, including Louis XVIII himself, as well as ancient divinities Athena, Apollo, Niké, and the neoclassical decorative elements that were very much in vogue during the Empire under the impetus of painter David and architects Percier & Fontaine. The blade is engraved in gold on a blued background: " La compagnie des Gardes de la Porte du Roi " on one side, "Au Comte de Vergennes capitaine-colonel. November 1, 1815."


sword, which has remained in the family to this day, is part of what its members called "the Vergennes treasure"


As such, it is emblematic of the period of the return of royalty and the Bourbons after the Hundred Days, a time when the symbols in vogue under the Empire had not yet been erased. Everywhere, on buildings, furniture, official documents and even soldiers' arms, the reviled eagle was replaced by the royal fleurs-de-lis.As Henri Vever wrote in his history of French jewelry in the 19th century, published in 1906 (1) (La bijouterie française au XIXe siècle 1800-1900), "Immediately after the fall of the Empire, the Bourbons returned to France with no taste for art or pomp. They were content to replace the bees and eagles with fleurs-de-lis ", explains


gold hilt, which unfortunately features several faded hallmarks. While one of them, which appears four times, shows the "Tête de bébé 2", an unofficial hallmark used by Parisian goldsmiths on their second-title gold products, the master goldsmith's hallmark, a characteristic lozenge, is completely illegible, preventing definitive identification of the goldsmith who created such a masterpiece of finesse, sculpture and chasing.

However, in this troubled period between two regimes, silversmiths capable of such an achievement could be counted on the fingers of one hand. They included Boutet, Odiot and Biennais, and even Nitot fils. They are all master goldsmiths who worked extensively for the previous regime, and Napoleon certainly made their fortunes. There are also other, more modest but equally competent silversmiths.

The decorative elementsA

meticulous study of the decorative elements on this sword reveals that they are in keeping with Charles Percier's neoclassical repertoire: clear lines underlined by fillets, circles, mythological figures, Greek or Roman gods and goddesses, but also Egyptian figures such as the sphynx or chimera, which are very present in the work of this architect, floral motifs, laurel leaves, acanthus leaves, antique Roman rosettes and also the symbols of the regime, the eagle or the bee under the Empire, replaced by the fleur de lys during the Restoration.

The pommelA

truncated cone in shape, it is adorned on each side with a winged chimera with lion's head and snake's tail, a recurrent motif in the work of Percier & Fontaine, while the oval top features a profile portrait of King Henri IV with laurel head in a pearled medallion. What could be more natural in 1815, the year of the return of the Bourbons, than to depict the founder of the dynasty?



obverse (guard plate side), Louis XVIII is shown in profile, head to the left, surmounted by a bundle of flags framed by a palm leaf and a laurel leaf, and surmounted by a rosette. At the bottom, the insignia of the Gardes de la porte: " Two keys in saltire, accompanied in the middle by a sword in pale, point upwards, surmounted by a crown with a radiant sun broaching the whole . On the reverse, the medallion features a mythological scene in which the goddess Athena, symbol of wisdom, military strategy, the arts and industry, receives a laurel wreath from the goddess Niké, messenger of victory. This scene symbolizes the close relationship between wisdom and victory, and is surmounted by a palm and laurel leaf and a winged female figure representing victory, holding a laurel wreath in each hand. Below the medallion, the great coat of arms of France, formed of three fleurs-de-lis on a field of azure, within a shield emblazoned with a trophy of arms. The symmetry between the two sides is perfect. The edges are adorned with a garland of laurel leaves and a central rosette. The entire fuse has an amati background, accentuating the relief of the decorative elements.


guard branch

is particularly elaborate: it takes the form of two intertwined snakes whose single tail forms the curved quillon and whose two heads curl around the base of the pommel. In mythology, notably Egyptian, the snake is the symbol of rebirth and regeneration, but also of strength and power. The central part of the branch's bow is a representation of the helmeted goddess Athena with her aegis, adorned in the center with the head of Medusa, whose hair is shaped like snakes.
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