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Pair of Flintlock Holster Pistols Made for Louis XIV of France (r. 1643–1715)

Gunsmith Pierre Cisteron French

Not on view

The barrels and locks bear the name of Pierre Cisteron, a highly skilled gunmaker in the town of Figeac in southwestern France whose work has long been overlooked by specialists. In 1659 King Louis XIV of France (r. 1643–1715) took Cisteron under his royal protection, sparing him the discrimination and persecution that French Protestants, his co-religionists, were commonly subjected to. The privileges granted to Cisteron were not motivated by religious tolerance––the king was quite opposed to Protestantism––but by the tradition whereby French kings granted tax exemptions and various other immunities to accomplished artists and craftsmen, allowing them to thrive and focus on their work, particularly for their royal patrons. Cisteron did not live long enough to see his royal protector declare the Protestant Faith illegal in 1685, following which French Protestants were forced to convert or leave the country.

The privileges granted to Cisteron were also enjoyed by other royal gunmakers. It was apparently granted on the strength of a pair of superb pistols that Cisteron had presented to the king. Although it is not possible to establish with certainty whether this pair was the one Louis received as a gift, the carved representation of the king’s bust on the pommels, which is derived from a medal created by Jean Varin (1604–1672) in 1643, lends some support to this possibility.

Beside this pair, only six works by Cisteron are known to survive. They include a pair of wheellock pistols in the Wallace Collection, London (inv. A 1180–A 1181); another pair of wheellock pistols, of which one is in the Musée de l’Armée, Paris (inv. M.993.363), and the other, a promised gift to The Metropolitan Museum in honor of its 150th Anniversary, is included in this exhibition; an incomplete and much altered flintlock pistol in a private collection; and a flintlock sporting gun in the Armeria Reale, Turin (inv. M 38).

The delicate engraved scenes and the masks chiseled in low relief on the lockplates of this pair, together with the sculptural chiseling of creatures in the round on the cocks are reminiscent of the effusive character of the lock design of other leading French gunmakers, among them Jean Hennequin of Metz and François Marcou of Paris. The inspiration for the actual ornament is distinct from their production, however, and seemingly drawn from independent sources. Like all other pistols bearing Cisteron’s signature, the fruitwood stocks of this pair are carved with ornament in low relief, an uncommon feature on French firearms from the period. The carved trophies of arms on the forestocks are especially distinctive of Cisteron’s known works.

While the design of most French luxury firearms of the first half of the seventeenth century favored sobriety, or quite to the contrary leaned towards exuberance, Cisteron’s works stand out for the harmonious balance that they strike between restraint and profusion of ornament. The promised gift of this pair of pistols will enable The Met to present the most elaborate pistols known to have been made by this remarkable gunmaker at a time when Paris was on its way to becoming the chief center for the production of luxury firearms in France.

Pair of Flintlock Holster Pistols Made for Louis XIV of France (r. 1643–1715), Pierre Cisteron (French, ca. 1589–1684), Steel, fruitwood, gold, silver, French, Figeac

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Overall, pair of flintlock pistols