Sword hilt with the Virgin Mary, Saint Michael, and Satan, ca. 1882
Albert–Ernest Carrier–Belleuse (sculptor; French, 1824–1887); Germain Bapst (goldsmith; French, 1853–1921); Lucien Falize (goldsmith; French, 1839–1897); in partnership 1880–92
Bronze, gold; H. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm), W. 5 in. (12.7 cm)
Purchase, Gift of William H. Riggs, by exchange, 1989 (1989.229)
The grip of this superb sword hilt depicts the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Victory, with her lily crown serving as the pommel. In this role, she was invoked as the protector and patron of those battling for righteous causes. The idea of victory is emphasized by the decoration of the guard: a low-relief image of Saint Michael vanquishing Satan. The Archangel Michael, as leader of the armies of heaven, symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. This hilt was made for Gaston (1840–1893), prince of Béarn and Chalais, who was particularly devoted to the worship of Mary. Its evocative sacred imagery is almost without parallel in the context of late nineteenth-century weapons.
This unique and fully signed hilt unites the talents of two outstanding French artists, the sculptor Carrier-Belleuse, who was responsible for the modeling, and the goldsmith Falize, who cast, chased, and gilt the bronze. It is a rare example documenting the contribution of major artists to the design and fabrication of arms and armor.