11258 AN EXTREMELY RARE SILVER AND VERMEIL FULLY ARTICULATED MODEL OF THE CHARIOT A MUNITION, DESIGNED BY THE FRENCH INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE ARTILLERY, JEAN-BAPTISTE VAQUETTE DE GRIBEAUVAL (1715-1789), AND MADE BY THE GOLDSMITH DOMINIQUE LORRAIN (FL. CIRCA 1820) Paris. Circa 1820. Measurements: Height: 3″ (7.5 cm) Width: 13″ (33 cm) Depth: 3 1/2″ (9 […]
Of silver and vermeil.
Stamped with three hallmarks:
Maker’s mark of Dominique Lorrain, a lozenge containing the initials LD surrounding an image of a turban.
Le Vieillard or Michelange, silver standard mark for Paris 1819-1838.
Indiscernible assay mark.
Engraved writing to the underside:
904g and ‘SAX’
Collection of Henry-René d’Allemagne, Paris.
La Maison d’un vieux collectionneur présentée par M. Guillaume Janneau by Henry-René d’Allemagne, 1948, plate 118
The present object is a scale model of the Chariot a munition, designed in the third quarter of the 18th century by General Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval (1715-1789). It appears to be unique in being a precision model rendered in vermeil and silver; it’s constituent parts are held together with a system of minute screws, rivets and pins true to the making of the full-size carraige on which it is modeled. Its military significance could lead one to speculate that it was a very costly gift, perhaps royal, to a French officer of high rank.
Gribeauval’s design for the chariot a munition is illustrated as Plate 45 of his “Collection Complète De La Nouvelle Artillerie Construite Dans Les Arcéneaux De Metz et Strasbourg Par Messieurs De Muÿ Et De Gribeauval,” created between 1764 and 1771 (figure 1). He was born in Amiens, the son of a lawyer, and in 1732, at the age of 17 entered the French army as a volunteer for the Royal Artillery Regiment in Paris. In that same year, French officer and Directeur General de l’Artillerie Jean-Florent de Vallière (1667-1759) began to systematize French artillery through a Royal Ordinance. He streamlined munitions by allowing for only a certain number of standard sizes of canons and mortars, as well as the uniform drilling of cannon bores leading to more accurate and efficient firing.
By 1735 Gribeauval had risen to the rank of officer with the Corps-Royal de l’Artillerie. He began developing his own artillery system during his service; in September 1748 he submitted a proposal for a garrison carriage, but it was rejected by Jean Florent de Vallière [Junior] (1717–1776), then General Director of the Artillery. In 1752 Gribeauval was promoted to Captain in the Corps of Miners and his career began to accelerate. He was sent to Prussia in 1755 to study their artillery, and after the King of France agreed to aid Austria during the Seven Years War, was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and sent to lead, successfully, their army’s sieges from 1758-1763. His unmistakable talent was widely admired and even Frederick the Great, “who had personally witnessed Gribeauval’s handiwork against his own forces during the 1761 siege of Schweidnitz, offered him a commission in the Prussian army.”1
Gribeauval remained loyal to France, however, and upon his return in 1764 he was made maréchal de camp. He attempted to implement the advances he observed in foreign artillery systems into the French model, but was initially met with resistance. It was not until 1776, when he was made Inspector-General of the Artillery by Louis XVI, that he could realize his reforms without opposition.
Gribeauval’s system succeeded that of Vallière; some aspects were retained, as they were still acceptable for siege and garrison artillery, but in the area of field artillery, the old system was far too heavy and significant updates were necessary. The main principle behind his system was the “entire separation between the material of artillery”2 for siege purposes, in which strength was critical, and for use in the field, which required advanced mobility. He lightened and shortened field guns, strengthened carriages, and emphasized the standardization and facilitation of production of military equipment. His was “the first system in which the different parts were perfectly regulated and made uniform, so that the parts of any carriage could be used on any other of the same kind.”3 This extended to artillery and munitions as well, and the interchangeable parts, down to the nuts and bolts, made their mass-production and repair much more efficient. The collection of designs outlined in his “Collection Complète De La Nouvelle Artillerie Construite…” included cannons, mortars, carriages, boats, and the accouterments for each. “The so-called Gribeauval system served France into the Napoleonic Era [and] was so far reaching that it also profoundly influenced artillery in other nations, including that of the emerging United States.”4
The particular type of caisson (cart) represented in the present model, the chariot à munitions, was designed for the transport of powder barrels, but was also adopted for transporting weapons, spare parts and supplies. It was particularly praised for it’s lightness, mobility, and carrying capacity; to achieve this “Gribeauval calculated the minimum dimensions which the different parts of the carriage should have.”5 The carts continued to be used into the 19th century during the Napoleonic invasions. As the emperor himself had been an artillery officer, he “retained a high level of interest in artillery, and the Gribeauval system greatly contributed to the victories of the French Revolution, the Consulate and the Empire. In Napoleon’s hands [the system]…was no longer an accessory but an essential part of the combined arms on the battlefield.”6
The present model is fabricated entirely of silver and vermeil, and bears three hallmarks. The first is the maker’s mark, a lozenge containing the initials LD surrounding an image of a turban. This mark belongs to the Parisian goldsmith Dominique Lorrain, of 29 Rue du Mail, who used it between 1820 and 1828.7 The next mark, a classical mask in profile, is the silver standard mark Le Vieillard or Michelange, indicating the piece was made in Paris between 1819-1838. The final assay mark is indiscernible. The cart also bears engraved writing that appears to read 504g (its weight) and the letters ‘SAX.’
The Parisian metalworkers at this time were the most sought after on the continent. The Russian Count Nicholas Demidoff, for example, bought his silver in Paris and “sent a huge urn of malachite, mined from his family’s lands in the Urals, to Paris to receive gilt bronze mounts in Thomire’s foundry.8
One area of specialism that acquired importance from the 17th century onward was the production of miniatures. Miniature pieces of silverware would be created as samples of a goldsmith’s production to be sent abroad, made for their own pleasure, or made as masterpieces. Furniture and tableware were created for luxurious doll’s houses. Military figures and toys were also made, particularly for royalty. Louis XIV for example, was given a collection of silver soldiers, cannons and carriages as a child. The manufacture of military playthings in precious materials continued into the 19th century, as the son of Napoleon I was given a toy cannon and gun carriage with horses made of ivory, gold and jewels. In addition to being made as toys, they were also produced as cabinet specimens. Unfortunately, many of the works in precious metals were melted down to finance France’s real-life armies, thus making the present piece an extremely rare survival.
A model in wood and iron of the chariot à munitions is in the collection of the Musée de l’Armée, Paris (figure 2). The museum contains around a thousand military models of all kinds, particularly those belonging to the Gribeauval system. Some were given as diplomatic gifts or to celebrate exemplary military careers, and the collection is “the ultimate witnesses both of the history of diplomatic relations and of technical advances in the construction of weapons and trades of this field, including the engravers and goldsmiths making the arms.”9 However, the present piece is the only known example executed in silver.
The present model formerly belonged to the French historian, author and collector, Henry-René d’Allemagne, and is depicted in situ in his home, displayed among military toys, in La Maison d’un vieux collectionneur présentée par M. Guillaume Janneau (1948), Plate 118 (figure 3).
- Kinard, Jeff. Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact. Santa Barbara Calif: ABC-Clio, 2007. 148.
- Art and Letters. Volume 3 London: Boussard, Valadon & Co, 1888. 280.
- 3. Gibbon, John. Artillerist’s Manual. New York, 1860. 172.
- Kinard, 148.
- Lepage, Jean-Denis. French Fortifications, 1715-1815: An Illustrated History. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2010. 126-7.
- Arminjon, Catherine, James Beaupuis, and Michèle Bilimoff. Dictionnaire Des Poinçons De Fabricants D’ouvrages D’or Et D’argent De Paris Et De La Seine, 1798-1838. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1991. 239.
- Arts Under Napoleon
- Corne, Cécile. “Les Nouveaux Espaces D’exposition Du Musée De L’Armée : Les Cabinets Insolites – Culturez-vous.” Culturez-vous. N.p., 08 Feb. 2016.