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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jacques Callot

Many great artists have become extremely accomplished artisans in etching, engraving, and lithography, yet the process has very seldom reversed itself. Few men who were not outstanding painters in the first place have crossed the creative divide and executed works worthy to take their place beside those of painter-etcher-lithographers like Durer, Holbein, Rembrandt, Goya, Hogarth, Daumier, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rouault, Miro, and Picasso.

The Hanging: Miseries of War series, 1633, Jacques Callot
One who did though was Jacques Callot (pronounced Zhawk KA-lo). Born in 1592 near Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, a southern French province, he studied in Rome and later in Florence where he came under the de Medici patronage. When he returned to Nancy, he practiced his trade as an engraver on such a scale as to turn out more than 1500 to 2000 plates in his lifetime. Callot believed in giving his customers good value for their money. He seemed able to crowd more people per square inch into his plates than any other artist before or since. Typical of his handling of crowds is his etching Guerra d'Armor executed for Cosimo de Medici II in 1615. The plate measures approximately 9 by 12 inches, yet in this confine he included over a thousand clearly individualized figures. His series, The Miseries of War, could well be considered the first anti-war statement in art. These etchings depict church burnings and lootings, peasants striking back at soldiers, and in the final plate, mutilated survivors begging from the profiteers who, even in those days, survived unscathed. War is presented as progressive madness, beginning with a great show of legality, rationality, and sanity then slowly dissolving into chaos as men devolve into monsters and the earth itself becomes a living hell.  
The Siege of Breda, 1627-29,
Jacques Callot

 While The Miseries of War etchings were on quite small plates, in his Siege of Breda, he worked on a vast scale for his time, his technique anticipating the modern billboard. When proofs were pasted together, the result was a single picture about four feet by five feet depicting the arrival of the Spanish Infanta to take possession of the conquered town.

Callot also had an abiding interest in the humorous and grotesque. In his series Beggars and Gobbi, his comic dwarfs and hunchback achieved their ultimate statement in his etching The Temptation of St. Anthoney. In it he depicts hell as a fun place where St. Anthony is surrounded by a cloud full of demons and devils all having the time of their lives. It was completed in 1634.  This work was one of his last. He died a year later at the age of 43.     
The Temptation of St. Anthoney, 1635,
Jacques Callot


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