Jacques Callot was born sometime between March and August of 1592 in Nancy, the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine. Cutting short his apprenticeship as a goldsmith, Callot left his native city to go to Rome where he stayed from 1608 to 1611/1612. There, he entered the workshop of the French engraver Philippe Thomassin (1562-1622) to learn the printmaking trade. Thomassin's successful shop specialized in engravings after the work of other artists, both living and deceased.
As an apprentice to Thomassin, Callot executed Les Tableaux de Rome, a series of prints after altarpieces and sculptures located in the Roman Basilicas of St. Peter's and S. Paolo fuori le Mura. These engravings are not of exceptional quality. Nevertheless, this series is important for art historians because all of the paintings recorded by Callot, which were originally located in the small naves around the transept of St. Peter's, are now lost, except for Cristofano Roncalli's The Fall of Sapphire.
Caption: The Fall of Sapphire Caption: St. Peter and St. John Healing the Lame Man
This series was probably a commission intended for publication with a text, but as the frontispiece bears neither a date nor an editor's name, it was probably never published. Callot also engraved works in S. Paolo fuori le Mura, such as these two prints below.
Caption: St. Jerome and his Disciples Caption: Ascension of Christ
In 1611, Antonio Tempesta hired Callot to etch the decoration created by Giulio Parigi and by Tempesta himself for the funeral of Marguerite of Austria, Queen of Spain. Marguerite, wife of King Philip III of Spain and sister of Maria Magdalena, the wife of Cosimo II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, died on October 3, 1611 and her funeral was held in the Florentine Church of San Lorenzo. Callot etched Parigi's ephemeral decoration for San Lorenzo and fifteen of Tempesta's twenty-six grisaille paintings with images from Marguerite's life. These etchings were published in The Funeral Book of the Queen of Spain in Florence in 1612 with a text by Giovanni Altoviti. Both the funeral ceremonies and The Funeral Book of the Queen of Spain were commissioned by Cosimo II.
Caption: Death of the Queen of Spain Caption: Storm in Barcelona
This commission marks Callot's first contact with the Medici Court, an engagement which developed into active patronage in 1614 when Callot was officially appointed to the court of the Grand Duke Cosimo II de' Medici in Florence.
Under the reign of Cosimo II (1590-1621), the citizens of Tuscany enjoyed a prosperous economy and peace. Florentine life, with its great outdoor festivals and theatrical performances, was characterized by extravagance and festivity. Public entertainment, usually on the occasion of a wedding, funeral or visit of a foreign dignitary, was provided by the Medici family and officially recorded by Callot for festival books that were distributed to guests. Callot made six illustrations, for example, for The War of Beauty, a celebration which took place in October 1616 on the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence to mark the visit of Federigo, Prince of Urbino. The War of Beauty, with its procession of floats, provided an enormous display of wealth and was witnessed by about 25,000 people, approximately one-third of Florence's population. The print from this series, Mount Parnassus, depicts the first float of the procession.
The War of Love, another Medici festival of equestrian and combat ballet, was held in honor of Cosimo II's wife, Maria Magdalena, on the Piazza Santa Croce in 1615. This print, Entry of the Wagons of Africa and Asia, along with three others, illustrated the festival book written by Andrea Salvadori. The print depicts the parade that took place before the equestrian ballet. A carnival scene appears in the foreground, while in the background the wagons of Africa (left) and Asia (right) are shown accompanied by an impressive procession. The representation of the protagonists is very detailed and includes specific characters from the commedia dell'arte. For this print, Callot used the elliptical form of the amphitheater as a frame for the composition.
Callot's two most famous and frequently copied Florentine works are The Fair at Impruneta, which depicts the fair which took place annually on the Feast Day of Saint Luke in the small Tuscan city of Impruneta near Florence, and The Fan, which recaptured the festivities held in Florence on July 29, 1619. Since the UAG owns only seventeenth-century copies of these two prints, they are discussed in the section devoted to `The Copies After Jacques Callot's Prints.'
Callot, along with other artists, lost the financial support of the Medici Court when Cosimo II died prematurely in 1621. As a result, he returned to Nancy where he had strong family ties.
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