"It is a severe kind of art, an art of heroism, of civic virtue. It succeeded to embrace the French Revolution, to adorn the Directory, to illustrate the Consulate and to give the Empire its decor" resumes M. Fumaroli, member of the French Academy.

Neoclassicism was born in Italy around 1730, with the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and it flourished between 1750 and 1830 in architecture, painting, sculpture, and decorative arts. This enthusiasm for Greco-Roman Antiquity was first led by intellectuals, as Johann Joachim Winckelmann who published in 1764 the History of Ancient Art, in which the art theorist praised the freedom of the Greek artists and gave to neoclassicism a political connotation.

After the excesses of Rococo, neoclassicism was characterized by a return to simplicity, to straight lines, to an ornamentation taking after the antique repertoire. The painters Jacques-Louis David and Anton Raphael Mengs, the sculptor Canova, the architects Jacques Ange Gabriel or Percier and Fontaine, and the cabinet maker Leleu were the great names of this style.

Gilt Bronze

Crafting an object out of gilt bronze demands the participation of several workers and different trades. The molten metal is cast into a mold based on a mock-up made of terracotta or wood, and once the metal has cooled down, the bronze is chiseled. The gilder-chiseler then does the gilding. Different methods can be used : mercury gilding or gold leaf. The first method often leads to an extremely high-quality result, and the second is more economical. In 1827, gold-plating was invented, which made it possible to avoid mercury vapor that was very dangerous.

Gilt bronze was already used in Italy during the 17th century, but Louis XIV's flamboyant reign, along with André Charles Boulle's renown, truly spread the use of gilt bronze all over Europe. Afterward, the Empire and the Restauration brought gilt bronze back in style as it was used to decorate luxurious interiors.

Gilt bronze is used to decorate stairway railings, luminaries, furnishings, clockwork, and statues, such as those placed on top of the pillars around the Pont Alexandre III (Alexandre III Bridge) inaugurated in 1900 for the World's Fair. Philippe and Jacques Caffiéri, Jean-Claude Duplessis, Jean Joseph de Saint-Germain, François Rémond, and Pierre Gouthière are a few important artists that signed gilt bronzes.

Large fireback with the coat of arms of
Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau

Late 18th century

Dimensions: W. 79 cm (2' 7'' ⅛) ; H. 97 cm (3' 2'' ¼ ) ; D. 4 cm (1'' ⅝ )

Cast iron

This large Louis XVI era antique fireback is in cast iron. Two facing unicorns hold up a shield bearing a coat of arms "in azure, with silver cross, surmounted with a chevron gules, alongside two mullet sables together with a pointed golden rose" which is that of the Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau family.
Positive identification of this coat of arms as being that of Louis-Michel Lepeletier, Marquis of Saint-Fargeau is confirmed by the crown of the marquis, the mortar board and mantle of Président à mortier above the coat of arms.

The arms of the Lepeletier family : “in azure, with silver cross, surmounted with a chevron gules, alongside two mullet sables together with a pointed golden rose”
The outer garments of the Président à mortier of the Parliament: mortar board (velvet cap adorned with two golden stripes) and coat (ermine-lined scarlet)

Louis-Michel Lepeletier, Marquis of Saint-Fargeau :

Born on 29 May 1760 in Paris, descendant of Michel Robert Le Peletier des Forts, Count of Saint-Fargeau (1675-1740) and Minister of State under Louis XV in 1730, Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau was a distinguished French magistrate and lawyer. En 1779, at the age of only 19, he became a member of the Parliament of Paris and was a lawyer at the Prison of the Chatelet.
A few months prior to the events of the French Revolution in 1789, he was elected Président à mortier of the Parliament, one of the most important offices of French justice in the Ancien Régime. From then on, Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau therefore included the mortar board, black velvet toque adorned with two golden braids, and the coat of the Président à mortier in ermine-lined scarlet within his traditional family coat of arms. It may therefore be considered without any doubt that the composition of the personal arms of Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau as represented on this fireback was subsequent to 1789.

During the Estates General of May 1789 convened by King Louis XVI, Louis-Michel Lepeletier was elected deputy of the nobility of Paris. However, gradually won over by the ideas of the Revolution, he turned his back on his noble origins in July of the same year, joined the Third Estate and became a fervent defender of the people's cause.

On 17 June 1790, the day when abolition of titles of nobility was voted in, he passed the law according to which "no citizen shall bear any other name than that of their family reduced to its simplest portion". Thus it was that he gave up the title of Marquis de Saint-Fargeau and henceforth became "Louis-Michel Lepeletier".

The Chateau of Saint-Fargeau and the Hotel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau :

Originally a fortified hunting lodge built in 980 by Héribert, bishop of Auxerre and brother of Hugues Capet, the chateau of Saint-Fargeau was rebuilt from 1453 by Antoine de Chabannes, Count of Dammartin.
Between 1653 and 1657, Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans, cousin of Louis XI, asked the king's architect, François Le Vau to renew the four inner walls of the chateau, where the monogram "AMLO" can still be seen.
The Chateau of Saint-Fargeau came to be owned by the Lepeletier family in December 1715, when it was bought by Michel-Robert Le Peletier des Forts. The latter, successively advisor to the Parliament of Paris, intendant of Finance, Minister of State under Louis XV and member of the Academy of Sciences, ordered the construction of the Pavilion known as "Des Forts".
Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau inherited the estate in 1778.

When residing in Paris, Louis-Michel Lepeletier lived in the mansion at 29 rue de Sévigné. Built from 1688 according to the plans of Pierre Bullet (1639-1716), architect of the King and the City, on behalf of Michel Le Peletier de Souzy (1640-1725), Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau mansion was attached to the Carnavalet museum in 1989.

Today, the Carnavalet museum still has a large fireback bearing the arms of Michel Le Peletier de Souzy, the ancestor of Louis-Michel Lepeletier, and of his wife Madeleine Guérin des Forts. This fireback, dated 1688, also has two unicorns supporting the double armorial crest.

Fireback with the coat of arms of Michel Le Peletier de Souzy and his wife Madeleine Guérin des Forts, Carnavalet museum, Paris. Dated 1688, time of the construction of the Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau mansion. Illustrated in the book by Philippe Palasi, "Plaques de cheminées héraldiques", published by Gourcuff Gradenigo, 2014.

Louis-Michel Lepeletier, first Martyr of the French Revolution :

Despite having advocated the abolition of the death penalty, the subject of a famous speech he delivered at the National Assembly in May 1791, he expressed a contrary point of view when it came to the fate of Louis XVI and voted for his execution on 20 January 1793.
The same evening, he dined at the Palais Royal restaurant of Février (or Ferrier), where Philippe Nicolas Maris de Pâris, fervent royalist and former bodyguard of Louis XVI was also present. An altercation between the two men broke out and Paris ran through Lepeletier with his sword. Mortally wounded, Lepeletier was taken to his brother's home in Place Vendôme (then called Place des Piques) before making his last breath a few hours later.

Political exploitation of the event was not long in coming and Louis-Michel Lepeletier was hailed as a true "martyr of the Revolution". His body was then left on display for three days on the Place Vendome with grandiose staging designed by the painter Jacques-Louis David before being buried in the Pantheon of Paris.

Display of the body and civic coronation of Michel le Peletier, 24 January 1793, on the pedestal of the Statue of Louis XIV on the Place Vendôme, then called Place des Piques. Pen drawing, Louvre Museum, Paris.

Jacques-Louis David depicted the magistrate on his deathbed in a large canvas entitled "The Last Moments of Michel Lepeletier". Intended as a diptych along with the canvas of "The Death of Marat" (who died in July 1793), the two canvases were installed in the session hall of the National Convention until 1795, when David recovered them and took them to Brussels. While "The Death of Marat" has remained there (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium), the Michel Lepeletier canvas was sold by David's descendants to his daughter, Louise Suzanne Lepeletier de Mortefontaine, a convinced royalist.

The painting subsequently disappeared mysteriously, either destroyed by Louise Suzanne or hidden within the walls of the Chateau of Saint-Fargeau.

Academician Jean d'Ormesson, a direct descendant of Suzanne Lepeletier said : "Family tradition has it that Suzanne hid the hated David painting within the thick walls of Saint-Fargeau. Seers, deviners and seeker of all sorts have been brought in, but such efforts have yielded nothing. To my father's despair, David's painting has always kept its secret, no doubt being lost for ever, perhaps within the formidable pink walls of the Chateau of Saint-Fargeau".


“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, 1793.
“The Last Moments of Michel Lepeletier”, engraving by Tardieu after the painting by Jacques-Louis David, drawing by Anatole Devosge. The painting is now lost.

Being able to be dated most precisely between 1789 and 1793, this exceptional fireback is perhaps the only remaining witness to a most unusual story, that of an aristocratic revolutionary who disowned his origins, "first martyr of the French Revolution", who was to achieve posterity thanks to the talent of a painter of genius, Jacques-Louis David.


The iconography of the sphinx arose in several Ancient cultures, most famously in Ancient Egypt and in Greek mythology.
The first sphinxes appeared in Egypt during the 3rd millennium BC. A typical Egyptian sphinx is in a reclined position and has a human head and lion's body. It is a symbol of the union between the Sun god Ra (by the lion) and the pharaoh (by the head). Moreover, sphinxes are often represented with a pharaoh's attributes, such as the striped head-cloth, the Nemes. Egyptians see the sphinx as a representation of divine power. It is also a protective animal, a guardian. This is why sphinxes are often situated at the entrance to a royal residence or a tomb, like the gigantic Sphinx of Giza.

The Greek sphinx evolved in a different way, leading to a winged female with a lioness' body and a woman's bust. In Greece, she took on negative connotations and became a destructive monster associated with death. The legend of Oedipus, who must solve the sphinx's riddle to free the city of Thebes that this creature is terrorizing, became one of the most represented scenes featuring the Greek sphinx in Ancient iconography as well as modern.

The sphinx became a part of modern Western iconography as well, be it as a decorative monument in 18th-century gardens or as a theme for 19th -century painters such as Ingres and Gustave Moreau.