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Jacques Callot

French etcher, engraver, and painter, b. at Nancy, France, 1592; d. in the same city, March 28, 1635

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Callot, JACQUES, a French etcher, engraver, and painter, b. at Nancy, France, 1592; d. in the same city, March 28, 1635. His father was Jean Callot, a noble, the herald-at-arms for Lorraine, who desired that his son should become a soldier or a priest. But the boy’s inclinations for art were so intense, and he was so precocious that parental wishes were of noavail. His work even as a schoolboy showed a grasp of human character, and the bizarre and humorous, particularly in people of the lower orders, attracted him. Before he was twelve years old he had studied design, wherein he was so soon to become a master, and had received aid from Henriet Israel, son of the Lorraine court-painter, and from Dumange Crocq, the royal engraver.

In 1604 he ran away to Italy in the company of a band of gypsies, hoping to reach the goal of his ambition, Rome. He stopped in Florence and studied engraving under the celebrated Remigio Gallina, and copied the work of the masters, thus tempering his love for the grotesque. The young runaway was soon sent home, to the joy of his parents, but his father finally consented to his accompanying the envoy of Duke Henry II to the Papal Court. In Rome he practiced engraving and etching and invented a hard varnish for grounding copper-plates. When he left Italy (1621 or 1622) his fame was already great, and it soon became world-wide. He engraved for the Infanta Eugenia in Brussels and for Louis XIII in Paris. It is said that when the French monarch in 1633 commanded Callot to engrave a plate commemorative of the fall of Nancy the artist cried that he “would rather cut off his right hand than use it on such a work”.

If little is known of his intimate life and traits, his 1600 plates afford full information concerning the artistic side of his career. Callot was often ugly in his realism, but he was a master of the art of design; clear in drawing, fertile in invention, precise in line, and varied in his style. The freedom and naivete in his small figures, the lifelike manner in which he treated them, and the certainty with which he arranged complicated groups made him the pioneer of methods followed by Rembrandt and his forerunners. The Macaberesque note in medieval art is dominant in his work, and there is a piquancy and newness given to the slightest details. A peculiarity in nearly all his figures is the smallness of the heads in proportion to the bodies. His landscapes are inferior to his figure-pieces and architectural plates, though the latter are of great historical and topographical interest (“La Tour de Neale” with “the Old Louvre”). No authentic finished painting by Callot exists among the great collections, and it is very doubtful if he ever completed a work in oil. This master of the grotesque and humorous was the father of etching in France, and his fame comes from his etchings, which are better than his engravings. He frequently spoiled his splendid point-work with the burin, and his reputation as an aquafortist depends, therefore, more on what he did than on how he did it. Notable among his works are eighteen plates entitled “The Miseries of War“; twenty-five plates of beggars; “The Holy Family“; “Cosmo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany“; “Charles III of Lorraine“. His last years were spent industriously in Nancy, where he died. He was buried in the church of the Francis-cans (Cordeliers). He was noted for his loyalty and courage as a subject of Lorraine, and for his generosity, probity, and kindness of heart as a citizen.

LEIGH HUNT


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