Publications of print or drawing collections traditionally avoid discussions of copies for fear of undermining the reputation of the corpus. Nevertheless, students and connoisseurs of prints must be able to recognize copies and to understand their social and cultural value for both the history of printmaking and the fortune critique of the artist's work.
Callot's prints have been copied and his style imitated since their creation, showing that his work has always been popular among collectors. One can find copies and forgeries after Callot from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. While some were meant as copies and published as such, others were intended to deceive the collector. The copies in the UAG collection are mostly seventeenth-century copies with the name of the copyist on the plate. On Henri Bonnart's copy after Callot's The Fan, the artist's name, `Iacomo Callot,' is inscribed on the lower right and that of the copyist, `N. Bonnart,' is on the lower left.
Commissioned by Cosimo II, this print shows the festivities held under the Duke's patronage for the feast day of Saint James in 1619. During the course of the spectacle, two teams fought on a small island that was built in the middle of the Arno River. The team of the dyer guild was led by the Dyer King while that of the silk weaver guild was led by the Weaver King. At the festival, 500 impressions of Callot's print were attached to actual fans and distributed to the ladies. This explains why the original engraving by Callot is now extremely rare. Interestingly, the woman seated on the right volute holds, in her left hand, one of these fans.
Solomon Savri (1594-1665) meticulously copied Callot's The Fair at Impruneta, a tour-de-force considering that, according to Lieure [(1924-27):II-37], the print contains no fewer than 1138 persons, 137 dogs, sixty-seven donkeys and forty-five horses. Savri's print is a reversed copy of Callot's original. This is probably due to the fact that Savri did not etch his plate reversing Callot's original composition. The composition of an impression is always a reversed image of that of the plate.
The fact that so many of Callot's prints were copied in the seventeenth century bears witness to both his tremendous reputation and the excellent market for prints. The UAG owns an entire set of copies after the Balli di Sfessania, one of Callot's most widely known and frequently imitated series. The Balli di Sfessania consists of a frontispiece showing actors on stage and twenty-three etchings depicting pairs of performers in stylized poses.
While all of Callot's original etchings combined the paired figures, the names of the performers, and background scenes, the copies are inconsistent. The UAG owns two impressions of Scapino and Zerbino from the Balli di Sfessania, which were copied by an anonymous artist. One impression shows the background while the other does not. This anonymous artist may have made an impression of the two figures and then added the background to the plate before he/she made more impressions.
Caption: Copy after Callot's Scapino and Zerbino Caption: Copy after Callot's Scapino and Zerbino
It seems appropriate, in conclusion, to present an original by Callot and a copy of the same print by another artist. Below are two etchings representing The Crossing of the Red Sea which Callot etched in 1629 in Paris for his friend and publisher, IsraŽl Henriet.
Caption: The Crossing of the Red Sea Caption: The Crossing of the Red Sea
The viewer is invited to guess which one is the original and which the copy. The identity of each artist is `hidden' behind the pointer of the caption. Good luck!
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