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The Lafayette Vase

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Paris (marked)

  • Date:

    1830-1835 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Fauconnier, Jacques-Henri (maker)
    Chaponnière, Jean-Étienne, born 1801 - died 1835 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cast, raised, moulded and chased gilded silver (silver-gilt), raised and cast gilded copper (gilt-copper), cast brass, iron and ormolu

  • Credit Line:

    The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:GILBERT.2:1 to 8-2008

  • Gallery location:

    Silver, Room 66, The Whiteley Galleries, case 1 []

The career of soldier and statesman Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette (1747-1834), spanned one of the most politically active eras in French and American history. Born into the aristocracy on September 6, 1747, he entered the army in 1771, retiring five years later when the military was restructured under Louis XVI. He then married a member of the powerful Noailles family, Adrienne d'Ayen. Against the wishes of the king, Lafayette sailed in 1777 to join the American fight for independence; he was warmly received and given an honourary commission as a major general by the Continental Congress. He became an intimate friend of General George Washington and was responsible for several significant actions during the course of the war, being present at the capitulation of Lord Cornwallis on October 19, 1781.
In 1782 he returned to France a hero and was made a brigadier general by Louis XVI. Immediately after the fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, the king installed him as commander of the National Guard, in which post he acted as guardian of the royal family and successfully contained mob violence in Paris until the fall of 1791, when his command was abolished and he retired to his estates. He was forced to flee to Belgian territory when the royal family was captured in 1792. There he was arrested, ironically, as a revolutionary, by order of the emperor of Austria; and was imprisoned until Napoleon negotiated his release five years later.

He was a very popular figure, both in France and the United States; in 1824 he returned for a year-long tour of America, where he was received as a hero of two revolutions. After the fall of Napoleon, Lafayette became a member of the Legislative Assembly and in 1827 was seated in the Chamber of Deputies; he remained actively involved in the political life of France until his death in Paris on May 20, 1834.

The form and decoration of the vase, although obviously classical in inspiration, is emblematic of the life of Lafayette. The four allegorical statues of young women represent Liberty, Equality, Strength, and Wisdom. Other symbolic motifs in the decoration include the attributes carried by the putti; one with a palm frond and wreath symbolising victory and the other with a cloak symbolising honour, and the juxtaposition of the French lily and cockerel with the American coffee plant and eagle.

Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde formed one of the world's great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.

Physical description

Two handled vase in the form of a krater standing on circular foot; the lower part of the vase decorated with palm leaves and sprays of lilies; each side of the vase with pair of putti holding an inscribed banner; neck decorated with band of oak leaves and olive branches. The vase stands on a tall square plinth with canted corners, each with an allegorical figure representing Liberty, Equality, Strength and Wisdom; the four sides with plaques illustrating scenes from the life of Lafayette:

Front: The British general Lord Cornwallis offers his sword to George Washington as a sign of capitulation (19 October 1781).

Right side: Lafayette takes the Oath of Loyalty to the French Federation (14 July 1790)
Back: Lafayette receives Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orleans, at the city hall of Paris (30 July 1830).

Left side: The distribution of standards to the National Guard (29 August 1830)

Place of Origin

Paris (marked)


1830-1835 (made)


Fauconnier, Jacques-Henri (maker)
Chaponnière, Jean-Étienne, born 1801 - died 1835 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Cast, raised, moulded and chased gilded silver (silver-gilt), raised and cast gilded copper (gilt-copper), cast brass, iron and ormolu

Marks and inscriptions

Paris first standard mark 1819-38
marked on most silver parts

French excise mark for largework 1819-38
marked on most silver parts

Goldsmith Fauconnier, Babylon 16
on base

inscription on banner held by pair of putti on main body of vase (front)

inscription on banner held by pair of putti on main body of vase (back)


Height: 105 cm, Weight: 58.935 kg, Depth: 45.5 cm of base, Width: 46 cm of base

Object history note

Provenance: George Washington Lafayette from April 9, 1835. By descent to Sahune Lafayette. Sale, Sotheby's, New York, June 6, 1980.

Historical significance: The vase was ordered by Jacques Lafitte, president of the Council of Ministers, and paid for by a subscription announced in November 1830 to be raised among the National Guard of Paris and the provinces. A sum of 63,143 francs was accumulated. The commission was originally intended to include a gold presentation sword. The vase was not completed until after Lafayette's death in 1834. Instead the vase was presented to his son, George Washington Lafayette, on April 9, 1835.

The account of the vase given by Ferdinand de Lasteyrie (1875, p. 304) supplies valuable information concering some of the other craftsmen employed by Fauconnier on the comission. De Lasteyrie describes the was as "a work of orfèvrerie which can be considered, with good reason, the most remarkable that the first third of the century left us [...]. The models [for the reliefs and freestanding figures] had been furnished by a sculptor of great talent, Chaponnière, who unfortunately died very young. Fauconnier had, furthermore, employed for the execution of the most important parts of his work two chasers of great merit, Muleret and Vechte, of whom the latter was soon to become one of the galores of French goldsmiths' work."

Jean-Étienne Chaponnière (1801-1835) was born in Geneva and studied sculpture in Paris under Jean-Jacques Pradier. His best-known work is the bas-relief for the Arc de Triomphe depicting the capture of Alexandria by General Kléber. Antoine Vechte (1800-1868) was also trained initially as a sculptor and bronze founder. Around 1835 he turned to silversmithing and earned an international reputation as a chaser of elaborate and inventive relief compostions. From 1848 to 1861 he worked in London for the firm of Hunt and Roskell. Perhaps his most famous work is the so-called Titan Vase of 1847 in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, London (Carrington and Hughes 1926, pl. 75). Little is known of Muleret, the other chaser named by de Lasteyrie (1875, p. 304).

Descriptive line

Silver-gilt and base metals, Paris, 1830-1835, made by Jacques-Henri Fauconnier

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

De Lasteyrie, Ferdinand. Histoire de l'orfèvrerie depuis le temps les plus reculés jusqu'à nos jours. 2nd edition, Paris: Hachette, 1875, p. 304.
Bouilhet, Henri. L'Orfèvrerie française aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. Paris: H. Laurens, 1910, p. 140.
Rhodes, Luba, Un Romantisme Mitigé: La Vie et l'Oeuvre du Sculpteur Chaponnière (1801-1834). Geneva: Editions Slatkine, 2006, pp. 181-189, 471-475, cat. no. S31/1-6 (images).
Schroder, Timothy. The Gilbert collection of gold and silver. Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1988, cat. no.169, pp. 622-27. ISBN.0875871445


Silver; Copper; Brass (alloy); Iron; Ormolu; Silver-gilt; Gilt copper


Casting; Raising; Moulding; Chasing; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Oak branch; Freedom; Lion mask; Monarchy; Democracy; Allegory; Lily; Olive branch; Putti; Eagle; Revolution; Palmettes; War; Gadroons


Metalwork; Vases; A Year of Objects: October, Surrender of Yorktown


Metalwork Collection

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