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Jacques Callot, Varie figure: Frontispice (Various Figures: Frontispiece), 1617–20s, etching, Albert A. Feldmann Collection.

Symposium “The Art of Jacques Callot”

Saturday, Mar 16, 2013
9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Beck Building
5601 Main Street Map & Directions

Jacques Callot was an extraordinarily productive artist, creating more than 1,400 prints and 2,000 drawings in his short lifetime (1592–1635). An international printmaker, he lived and worked in both Florence and Lorraine. Fascinated by both the grotesque and the elegant, he was also drawn to naturalism and careful observation. His prints can be monumental, but as a rule invite close viewing with a magnifying glass for a full appreciation of their miniscule details. Callot’s imaginative, inventive, and witty etchings depict a broad range of themes, from theatrical performances and military sieges to Gypsies and beggars. Furthermore, Callot revolutionized the technique of etching by developing a new type of needle and perfecting the use of a hard-ground and multiple-acid bitings. His prints have deeply influenced artists such as Goya and Rembrandt.

Princes & Paupers: The Art of Jacques Callot is the first major exhibition of the artist’s work to be accompanied by an English-language catalogue since the 1970s. At this symposium, seven speakers investigate the relationship of Callot’s art to contemporary science, music, religion, and literature.

This event is free with general museum admission. Reserve your seats in advance! Click the "Get Tickets" link above and use your own printer; call 713.639.7771; or visit any MFAH admissions desk.

Questions about the content of this symposium? E-mail

Symposium Schedule

9:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m. "Introducing Jacques Callot"
     1. Introduction to the Exhibition Princes and Paupers: The Art of Jacques Callot
Speaker: Dena M. Woodall, assistant curator of prints and drawings, MFAH
     2. Jacques Callot's Life of the Gypsies
Speaker: Diane Wolfthal, David and Caroline Chair in the Humanities and professor of art history, Rice University
Because Jacques Callot’s early biographer André Félibien claimed that the young artist had joined a band of gypsies on the way to Italy, Callot's series of four etchings devoted to this subject were long considered objective. This paper disputes that conclusion and demonstrates that Callot was much more than simply a producer of glittering, aristocratic etchings.

10:30 a.m.–10:45 a.m. Coffee Break

10:45 a.m.–11:45 a.m. "Near and Far"
     1. So Near and Yet So Far: Callot's Twin Italian Exposures
Speaker: Colin Eisler, Robert Lehman Professor of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
When the print maker came to Tuscany he was exposed to two radically different, equally novel perspectives. Distant vistas realized through Galileo's discoveries (that scientist much interested in the arts) gave Callot, the young Northerner, a new sense of spatial exploration. Close to the Medici, both the astronomer and the etcher could well have known one another.
    Similarly, the Lilliputian figures peopling popular Italian games in graphic form could also have heightened the Northern etcher's awareness of the manipulative attributes of the miniature. Thus two aspects of "show business," whether the new vision realized through astronomy or achieved by diminutive tactility of the game board, brought new issues of the cosmic into sight.  Novel senses of proximity and distance first found in Italy were to define Callot's oeuvre for the rest of his career.
     2. Jacques Callot and the Sacred in Miniature
Speaker: James Clifton, director, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation at the MFAH
Although Jacques Callot was one of the most prolific makers of religious prints in the 17th century, this aspect of his career remains understudied.  Some of his religious works are tours de force of etching, and, because of that, their devotional function is easily overlooked.  There is a tendency in art historical studies to separate artistic concerns and piety—prioritizing the former—but the two are not mutually exclusive and can sometimes be profoundly integrated.  Focusing on three of Callot’s series—the Small Passion, the Life of the Virgin, and the Martyrdom of the Apostles—this paper examines how both Callot’s virtuoso handling and the very small format (the vertical compositions range in height from 68 to 77.5 mm) contribute to the devotional function of the etchings.

11:45 a.m.–1:45 p.m. Lunch

2 p.m.–3:15 p.m. "Festivities, Patronage, and Impact"
      1. The Draftsman's Voyage in the Early 17th Century:
          Callot and a Mediterranean Sketchbook of 1620

Speaker: Sheila McTighe, senior lecturer in 17th-century art, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London
An album now in the British Museum with an old attribution to Jacques Callot contains pen and ink, red chalk, and watercolor sketches of various harbors and seaside views in Sicily and Menorca. The inscriptions on each mount date the sketches to the late summer of 1620. Callot was employed by the Florentine court in that year, and these sketches have many relations to the drawings ‘from life’ that he made in Florence at that time. The sketchbook from which the mounted album was made, however, seems to record a voyage around the most dangerous coastline in the world.  These were the haunts of the Barbary pirates, Muslim Corsairs sailing out of North African ports, whose disruption of Mediterranean trade reached a crisis point in the year 1620. There is both a political and an artistic context for this sketchbook. The Medici Grand Dukes in Florence had for years been at war with the pirates, as were the governments of England, France and Spain. Sending an artist to sketch the scenes of their battles with trading ships may not seem like a strategy of warfare. But it had only recently become fashionable to send draftsmen on journeys of topographic view-making and discovery.  Investigating the sketchbook in light of this type of drawing practice sheds new light on Callot’s topographic siege prints and his etchings of warfare in the years that followed his departure from the Florentine court.
     2. The Artist of the Crowd: Rembrandt and the Legacy of Callot’s “Varie Figure”
Speaker: H. Rodney Nevitt, Jr., associate professor of art history, University of Houston
This paper examines the artistic relationship of Callot to Rembrandt, moving beyond the well-established discussion concerning their shared imagery of beggars to a broader consideration of a visual aesthetic that tended to link certain genre subjects—sometimes low or comic themes—with a highly calculated attention to varying degrees of finish in etching. It explores how works were inscribed within the developing art-critical vocabulary of their time. Callot entitled one series "Capricci di varie figure." Baldinucci referred to Callot's beggars as "curiosi, cappricciosi e ridicoli," and to Rembrandt's art as "pittoresco." The 17th-century Dutch concept of the "schilderachtig" ("painter-like" or "picturesque") is important in this context. Indeed, a reconsideration of Callot and Rembrandt offers the opportunity to bring together several strands of scholarship that have developed independently in the French, Italian and Dutch fields.

3:30 p.m. Reception and Viewing of the Exhibition

This symposium is made possible by generous funding from the Faculty Initiatives Fund at the Rice University Humanities Research Center, George L. McLendon, Provost; and by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.