A large part of the work of Jacques Callot is definitely influenced by the “Comedia dell’arte” and the street scene that he was acquainted with in Italy. His life is full of adventure and experimentation. In 1592 he was born in Nancy in Lorraine as a descendant of a noble Burgundian family.
In 1604 he secretly left the family home and went as thirteen old boy by foot to Rome. Without recommendation letters and money. He did not even know the direction, but after a few hours’ walks he ended up in a group of bohemians who were on their way to Florence. That life of several months strengthened his taste for the burlesque, and he recorded this episode in four engravings (Les Bohemians).
From Florence, he went to Rome where he was recognized by merchants from Nancy who brought him despite his opposition back to his parents. After having saved some money, he escaped again, this time to Turin. There he was discovered by his brother Jean who brought him also back again.
After he had made a credible portrait of the Duke his parents gave permission to go to Italy. There he worked in the studios of Antonio Tempesta in Rome and Pietro Parigi in Florence. Parigi disapproved his taste for the burlesque, but could not keep his admiration for his work for himself. In 1615 ended his apprentice contract with Parigi and he began to work for himself.
He created the series Caprices (Whims). It is a specimen of his penchant for the grotesque, which derive many features from feasts and masquerades which were known to the Florentines. They had a good reception.
The Balli series includes 24 plates each with two characters in grotesque attitude, but with smaller groups in the distance. Above or below the two are registered their names, then known but now incomprehensible. The background is always occupied by a street full of spectators watching the dancers.
This is a series of beggars, including a number who generate charity by fake wounds and ulcers.
These simulated wounds were named in the 17th century in England “clymes”. In the book “The English Rogue” by Head and Kirkman is told how that went into his work and what strategies to survival were applied.
GOBBI (The Hunchbacked)
This series consists of grotesque figures with high ridges, humps and hanging bellies. They usually play conventional or strange musical instruments, delivering sword fights and implement jocular dancing.
FRENCH INVASION IN LORRAINE
During the Thirty Years War Callot’s homeland was raided by Louis XIII and Richelieu his first minister, and Nancy had to surrender. Callot was asked to make memorial prints.
However, he refused to commemorate with his burin and etching needle the fall of the city and did something completely different. He made the famous series “Les Misères de la Guerre” to preserve the memory of the horrors of the French invasion of Lorraine.
THE MISERIES OF WAR – 1633 –
We undergo in these prints the warfare of that time. How rational the standing armies with their pikes and muskets were organized, the battle often turned out into fighting and cruelty of man to man in isolated groves, and the looting and burning of farms and dwellings.
Each scene of war has an ideal location from which it can be reviewed and Callot knows – with nearly aristocratic detachment- to find that viewpoint always flawlessly. We undergo his pervasive realism but the prints do not represent nightmares. We also see images of scaffolds and executions as “natural” corollaries of the war events.