Throughout his career Jacques Callot was fascinated with the representation of social types, such as noblemen, officers, Bohemians and paupers. These representations have been widely imitated by other artists and sought after by collectors. One of the most fascinating of these series is the one called The Nobility of Lorraine, which consists of twelve prints. In the inventory made after Callot's death, this series is described as representing the `bourgeois nobles,' or the recently ennobled class of bourgeois that formed the active elite of the Duchy of Lorraine.
Callot did not set out to portray specific members of this class, but rather to humorously represent certain social types. The precise date of The Nobility of Lorraine remains uncertain, but the series can be safely situated around 1620 to 1623.
Caption: Young Nobleman Caption: Old Nobleman
In these two etchings, Callot represented both a young and an old version of the same nobleman. The smiling Young Nobleman wears an impressive hat and a fur plastron under his ruff. The Old Nobleman has a disillusioned air and has put on some extra weight. Behind the young nobleman is a small city, probably Italian, where a duel is taking place; the background of the other print shows a tavern and a valet holding a horse for his master. These etchings represent the interests of the `nobleman' during his adventurous youth and his mellow old age.
The counterpart of The Nobility of Lorraine is generally considered to be the Beggars series. The University Art Gallery does not own prints from this set but several images from the Capricci series fill the gap. The fifty prints of the Capricci were etched first in Florence in 1617 and again in Nancy five years later. The prints below depict two aspects of peasant life:
Caption: Seated Peasant with a Donkey Caption: Shepherd Piping
The Bandit's Lair and the Inn Scene represent stereotypes about the life of the lower class that would have appealed to and entertained the upper class, for whom these prints were destined:
Caption: Bandit's Lair Caption: Inn Scene
Conceived and printed in Lorraine after 1621, Callot's series of four etchings entitled The Bohemians is one of his most popular, both for its frieze-like composition, which is rare in the print medium, and for its subject matter. Callot's interest in the life of the Bohemians has a picaresque and personal flavor. According to André Félibien [(1685):vol.IV, ent.VII], one of the printmaker's earliest biographers, the twelve-year old Callot, anxious to go to Italy, joined a group of Bohemians traveling toward Rome. Whether this is true or not, there was a great fascination with the theme of the Bohemians in Europe at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Seen as mysterious people somehow related to the Egyptians, they were associated with fortune telling, dancing, singing, stealing and prostitution. Many artists dealt with this theme, particularly the Caravaggesque painters like Simon Vouet and Bartolomeo Manfredi, who worked in Rome in the first two decades of the century.
Produced after Callot's trip to Flanders around 1628-29, The Brelan was certainly influenced by the Northern Caravaggesque tradition which favored candlelight scenes. The task of the engraver, however, is far more complicated than that of the painter when rendering a night scene. While Callot's light and dark areas are all remarkably vibrant, the density of the cross-hatching appears only in few excellent impressions. In a print of average impression, like the one reproduced below, the limitations of this technique become apparent.
This print is one of Callot's two night scenes, the other one being the Benedicité. The biblical and moralistic theme of the prodigal son is indicated by the Latin verses around the composition in The Brelan. Centrally located in the composition, the prodigal son leans toward the courtesan's cards. Behind her, a man holds a mirror to reveal her hand to his accomplice across the table. It has been suggested that the prodigal son and the courtesan are portraits of Callot and his wife.
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