"Give me leave, my dear General to present you with a picture of the Bastille, just as it looked a few days after I had ordered its demolition,- with the main key of the fortress of despotism. It is a tribute, which I owe, as a son to my adoptive father, as an Aide-de-Camp to my General, as a Missionary of liberty to its Patriarch." - Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington, March 17, 1790
The storming of the Bastille by a Parisian mob on July 14, 1789, marked the beginning of the French Revolution. As commander of the Paris National Guard in 1789, the Marquis de Lafayette received the keys to the loathsome political prison and symbol of absolute monarchy. In 1790, he sent this key and a drawing of the prison in ruins to George Washington, his former commander, who was serving his first term as America's first president in New York City. Washington prominently displayed the key as a "token of victory by Liberty over Despotism" in a custom-made, carved and gilded case in his Philadelphia executive residence and then in the Central Passage at Mount Vernon, where both objects remain to this day.
Gilded, vertical, rectangular hanging case with three glazed sides. Interior painted white with brass hook at top back center. Backboard is cove-molded with beaded edges down its sides and has carved scrolls and leaves at its bottom. Two circular iron hangers at sides of backboard attach case to wall.
before 18th Century
Wood, gesso, gilt, paint, glass, brass, iron
Overall: 12 3/4 in. x 7 1/2 in. x 3 1/2 in. (32.39 cm x 19.05 cm x 8.89 cm)
Transferred to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association through the generosity of John Augustine Washington III, 1860
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