An Exceptional French Silver-Gilt Small-sword, 1774-80

5032
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Item ref: 5032

  • France, Paris with imported blade from Germany, Sollingen.
  • Steel, silver, gold

Provenance:

The Marquesses de Campo Llano, Lords of Tamames, created Dukes de Tamames in 1804/5. Subsequently included in the collection of swords belonging to the 4th duke, José Mesía del Barco y Gayoso de Los Cobos (1853-1917), and retained by the family until the recent sale of the collection.

The present sword was probably acquired for wear by Antonio María Mesía del Barco y Godínez de Paz y Castro, 7th Marquess de Campo Llano (1761-1804), whose family was distinguished and ennobled in the service of the Spanish crown. The first marquess, Francisco Nicolás de Castro y Gallego (1640-1709), was governor of Antequera (now Oxaca) in Mexico, and created a Knight of the Order of Santiago.

The 7th Marquess de Campo Llano was appointed director of the Banco Nacional de San Carlos in 1790. In reward for his important work raising crown revenues de Campo Llano was created 1st Duke of Tamames and Grande deEspaña by royal decree in October 1802. The title was confirmed in Madrid on 26th November 1804, the day of his death, but only formally conferred on his son, José Mesía y Garro, as 2nd duke, on 23rd May 1805.

The 4th duke, José Mesía del Barco y Gayoso de Los Cobos (d. 1917), into whose significant collection of swords the present sword had descended, had been a Spanish politician since 1886. Rising to pre-eminence, the duke was also appointed a courtier. He was married to the daughter of the Duke of Alba (the foremost Spanish duchy), was head of the Royal Household and held the royal appointment of Governor of the Province of Madrid.

This sword hilt exemplifies the peak of Paris fashion within the latter period of the Ancien Régime. That such a sword should be owned by a member of Madrid patrician society is a measure of the Bourbon cultural influence disseminated from the Spanish royal court over the course of the 18th century.

Another small-sword with a paste-set silver-gilt hilt nearly matching the present example and almost certainly from the same Paris workshop is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (26.145.303). That hilt bears the Paris silver date letter for 1778, together with the inspector’s charge mark of Jean-Baptiste Fouache. See Bashford Dean, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Catalogue of European Court Swords and Hunting Swords, New York 1929, cat. no. 98, Plate LXXIV.

 

Quite naturally, the present hilt bears the charge mark of Jean-Baptiste Fouache also, who served as inspector and collector of taxes (fermier général) on Paris gold and silver wares 1774-1780. Unfortunately, the Paris date letter on the present hilt is an incomplete striking of the period and the corresponding discharge mark is unclear. 

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