CALLOT, Jacques
(b. 1592, Nancy, d. 1635, Nancy)

The Battle of Avigliana

after 1631
Etching, 352 x 521 mm
Various collections

Callot, adventurous from his youth, carried his daring and curiosity into his craft and is responsible for inventive brilliance in the preparation of his etched plates. He was born in Nancy, France; his family planned a life for him in the Church. However, he ran away from home on two occasions while still a youth. The first time (1604) he met a band of gypsies and traveled with them to Florence. His memory of this escapade resulted in a group of etchings done in later years. From Florence he traveled to Rome, where he was recognized by merchants from his home town, and compelled to return to Nancy. A second attempt to escape was successful only as far as Turin, where an older brother found him. About 1608, the family finally accepted defeat and permitted him to leave for Rome to study art.

Callot studied in both Rome and Florence under various masters, and learned the craft of etching. But he soon outstripped his teachers and in the course of his lifetime produced some thousand plates, along with over fourteen hundred drawings, which have influenced and inspired many artists since his day. There were many imitators, but Callot's prodigious accomplishment remains unequaled.

Typical of Callot's genius is this view of a battle, in which the vantage point of the artist seems far removed from the field of action. The horsemen in the left foreground are clearly depicted, and as the action recedes into the distance, mere scratches on the plate become, by some miracle of craftsmanship, footmen and cavalry engaged in fierce action. With incredible patience Callot draws a walled town at the right, delineates other small towns perched on huge rocks, and creates plains, mountains, and rivers that move into the far distance. It has been estimated that Callot crowded a thousand figures into compositions of this size. In this magic of suggestion he remains unsurpassed.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 12 minutes):
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber: The Battle, suite