Spain, Placencia. Steel, iron, gold, wood.
Private collection, USA
This is a fine example of a Spanish sporting gun made in traditional style with the exaggerated ‘boot-shaped’ butt that was fashionable in eighteenth-century Spain. It was made in 1788 by the Eibar gun-maker Antonio Guisasola. The same mark as appears on the barrel of our gun, with the closed crown and his name, also appears on the barrel of a superb silver-mounted gun he made in 1796 in conjunction with Juan Navarro for presentation to King Carlos IV of Spain (1748–1819, reigned 1788–1808) that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (acc. no. 16.135). The stamping on the underside of the barrel of our gun shows that it was made in the royal ‘factory’ at Placencia, a village near Guisasola’s home town in the northern Spanish province of Guipúscoa which had been involved in arms manufacture since the fourteenth century. The full inscription would read as MAESTRO EXAMINADOR POR SU MAJESTAD PALENCIA GUIPÚSCOA (Master Inspector for His Majesty, Placencia, Guipúscoa) and indicates that the gun was made, or at least inspected and approved, at the royal arms ‘factory’ at Placencia. As it is known that Guisasola himself was Master Inspector there from 1790 to 1833 it suggests strongly that our gun was made as part of the official business of the factory for some royal purpose. However, it appears that at this time the ‘factory’ operation at Placencia was not a factory in the conventional sense. When the author and politician Caspar de Jovellanos visited the area in 1791 he found that the guns were made not in one place but by craftsmen working in Placencia itself and the surrounding towns and villages of Ermua, Eibar, Elgoibar and Mondragón with the work subdivided between barrel-makers, lock-makers, stock-makers and mount-makers. For most of the time these craftsmen worked on their own private commissions, the King contracting for those guns that he required and relying on a local director to ensure delivery.
Given this loose organisation of the ‘factory’ at Placencia our fine and elegant gun could either have been a private or a royal commission, though the fact that it was inspected on behalf of the King strongly suggests that it may have been a royal commission. It has previously been suggested that the gun was made for presentation to King Louis XVI of France by King Carlos IV of Spain on his accession to the throne in 1788. The arms on the trigger guard are certainly those of the Bourbon family but do not accurately represent the royal arms of France, which at this time had the arms of Navarre impaled with the Bourbon arms, nor are they surmounted by either a French regal or princely crown. The chivalric orders referred to are both French. Although the Order of Saint Michael was the earlier, being founded in 1469, it was the Order of the Holy Spirit, founded in 1578, that became the senior order, and anyone who became a knight of it was automatically also a knight of Saint Michael. In 1788, when this gun was made, there were appear to be no French Bourbons who were members of these orders whose arms should have been depicted in this way. Athis gun was made in Spain and as Spain had been ruled by the Bourbon family since 1700 it therefore seems likely that this gun was made for a Spanish member of the Bourbon family who was a Knight of the Holy Spirit and St Michael. In 1788 there would appear to be only three possible candidates who were of an age to receive such a gun - the three surviving sons of King Carlos III (ruled 1759–88), Carlos, Ferdinand and Gabriel. Carlos, the Spanish heir apparent and Prince of Asturias and Viana (1748–1819), became Carlos IV on the death of his father in December 1788. He was renowned for his strength and love of hunting. Indeed, during his reign he showed much more inclination to hunt than to become involved in the minutiae of politics and ruling his kingdom. He, therefore, would have appreciated a fine hunting gun like this. Ferdinando (1751–1825) ruled as Ferdinand III of Sicily and Ferdinand IV of Naples from 1759 and is also known to have been a keen hunter, so the gun would also have been an appropriate gift for him. Gabriel (1752–88) as the youngest son was given the title of infante, which in Spain denoted the child of a monarch who was not in line to succeed. Born and brought up in Naples he moved to Spain when his father became King and, together with his wife and only surviving son, died of smallpox in November 1788 at El Escorial. Of the three brothers he was the most cultured, being renowned as a classical scholar and musician and was, perhaps, the least interested in hunting, but there is no reason whatever why such a gun should not have been made for him. The image of the pelican feeding her young with her own blood that appears on the side plate speaks of the piety of the owner as this was symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and this imagery is likely to have appealed to the scholar in Gabriel.
At first sight what is depicted above the arms seems to be a normal ducal coronet, which would be inappropriate for Gabriel, but close inspection suggests that the engraver has intended to show the velvet cloth cover arching within the circlet which denotes the crown of an infante. It, therefore, seems most likely that this elegant gun was made for the infante Gabriel shortly before his tragic death.
Bright steel miquelet lock with external mainspring, ring-headed jaw screw and serrated face to the frizzen. The lock-plate and cock engraved with floral and foliate scrolls, the toe of the cock chiselled as a shell and the back of the frizzen chiselled with a grotesque foliate mask. Between the cock and the pan the lock-plate is struck with a gold-lined mark bearing beneath a coronet the name AN/TON./GVI/SAS/OLA. The underside of the barrel is stamped at the breech MRO ESAMR P S M PLACA GUIPA 1788. Fruitwood half stock with traditional Spanish ‘boot-shaped’ butt, carved behind the barrel tang, at the rear of the side and lock flats, and around the fore-end with foliate and floral scrolls. The mounts of iron, the scroll trigger guard with a front tang chiselled as a foliate baluster and engraved on the bow in an oval escutcheon with the royal Bourbon arms of three fleur-de-lys encircled by the Collar of the Order of St Michael, with the Badges of the Order of St Michael and the Order of the Holy Spirit pendant from it. The arms are surmounted by the crown of an infante or a ducal coronet and flanked by angel supporters, below the badges of the orders, the decoration ends with a panel of addorsed interlacing leaf scrolls. The side plate has fretted edges cut to follow the engraved ornament of leaf scrolls involving flowers and pelicans and a central scene of a pelican feeding its young on its own blood. The barrel is secured by a pierced band, the wooden ramrod by a single baluster pipe. The blued, two-stage barrel of octagonal section inlaid with engraved silver decoration in the form of running floral and foliate scrolls involving hounds, hare, boar, stag and birds highlighted with gold. At the breech the two visible side flats are stamped with gold-filled fleur-de-lys and the central flat with four gold- filled marks: a foliate cross; a fleur-de-lys; a covered crown above AN/TON./GVI/SAS/OLA; and a rampant lion.The bright steel tang is engraved with rococo leaf scrolls.
Size: Length 132 cm / 52 in