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Court Sword and Scabbard

A work made of silver, gilding, steel, mother-of-pearl, wood, leather, and textile.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of silver, gilding, steel, mother-of-pearl, wood, leather, and textile.


c. 1810


Martin-Guillaume Biennais (French, 1764-1843)

About this artwork

This court sword, with its heavily gilded silver hilt, mother-of-pearl grip and gold inlayed blade, was intended for presentation to a diplomatic, civic, or military leader for ceremonial wear at court. It represents the final development of the eighteenth civilian smallsword, with its characteristic short blade and downturned kidney-shaped guard—design features meant to make it less inhibiting to wear or less damaging to fine silk clothing.

The reverse side of the guard is engraved with the name and address of Napoleon Bonaparte’s official goldsmith, Martin-Guillaume Biennais of Paris. Biennais was responsible for executing gold and silver table wear, furniture, and even weapons for the Emperor and his court, much of which was designed by the architect Charles Percier. Watercolor drawings attributed to Percier for a nearly-identical hilt design—complete with flanking winged horses, laurel leaves, and other classical ornaments—are preserved in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. These motifs reference the trappings of the ancient Roman empire to draw allusions to Napoleon and his rule.


On View, Gallery 239


Applied Arts of Europe


Martin-Guillaume Biennais (Maker)


Court Sword and Scabbard


Paris (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Silver, gilding, steel, mother-of-pearl, wood, leather, and textile


H.: 98 cm (38 5/8 in.)

Credit Line

Bessie Bennett Major Acquisitions Endowment Fund; through prior acquisition of the George F. Harding Collection

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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