Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette
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[ This description is from the project: Revolutionary-era Art and Artifacts ]
This portrait depicts Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834). In 1790, Thomas Jefferson commissioned French artist Joseph Boze (1745-1826) to paint the Marquis de Lafayette for his gallery of American heroes. In the painting, Lafayette wears medals for his service in the American war and for his role in leveling the Bastille, as well as a Society of the Cincinnati medal.
Born into a noble French family, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, commenced his military career in the King's Regiment of Musketeers in 1771. With his marriage in 1774 to Adrienne de Noailles, the aristocratic young officer entered one of the most powerful and influential families in France. Motivated by both the reports of the rebellious Americans fighting for liberty and his ambition of achieving military glory, Lafayette bought a ship and sailed for America. After his arrival in 1777, his pleasing manner and willingness to learn earned the twenty-year-old marquis an honorary commission as major general in the Continental Army. He was devoted to General Washington who became his mentor and father figure. Lafayette's courage and tenacity on the battlefield and his successful pleas for material aid for the Americans to France established him as a hero. The fact that he left home and hearth to risk his life in a country not his own (and at his own expense) for the cause of liberty captured the imagination and admiration of Americans. Received as a hero in his homeland upon his return, and well-known for his liberal ideas throughout the western world, Lafayette played an important role in the political changes taking place in France. Appointed head of the Parisian Garde Nationale in 1789 after the storming of the Bastille, he ordered the prison leveled, and a few months later, sent the key to the Bastille to America as a tribute to Washington, his mentor and the man he considered the father of liberty. Lafayette tried to steer a middle course through the French Revolution, but was arrested and spent five years in prison. He was released in 1797 and then he refused to work in Napoleon's government. After the Bourbon Restoration in 1814 he became a member of the Parliament of France. Lafayette was invited to the United States as an honored guest and between August 1824 and September 1825 he toured all 24 states. He died in 1834 and is buried in Paris under soil gathered from Bunker Hill.