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Jacques Callot, Death and Beggary by the Roadside

Etching, 8.2 x 18.6 cm. Baillieu Library Collection, The University of Melbourne, Gift of Dr. Orde Poynton, 1959, Accession No. : 1959.2126.000.000.
The print ‘Death and Beggary by the Roadside’ is part of the series Les Misères et les Malheurs de la Guerre (The Miseries and Misfortunes of War), etched by Jacques Callot in Nancy and printed as a series by Israël Henriet in Paris in 1633.Both Jacques Callot (1592-1635) and Israël Henriet (1590-1661) were born in Nancy, the capital of Lorraine. Their families were connected to the court of the Dukes of Lorraine during their childhood, Callot’s father being a herald and Henriet’s a court painter (Préaud, Bechtel, 10). During this period the independent duchy of Lorraine was a cosmopolitan city, along routes between major European centres of culture (Bechtel, 8). 

Henriet studied engraving in Rome, but became chiefly known as a printer and print seller. He began a printing workshop in Paris in 1622, developing a successful business and eventually becoming the main printer of Callot’s works and commissioning works from artists including Stefano Della Bella (Préaud).

Callot was initially apprenticed as a goldsmith within the court at Nancy, but moved to Rome in around 1608 to pursue his interest in art. There, he took drawing lessons from Antonio Tempesta, before becoming an assistant in the workshop of engraver Phillippe Thomassin from 1609 to 1611. It was in this role that he learnt to use the engraver’s burin (Bechtel, 13, Griffiths, 12-13).  Callot’s skills in engraving developed over this period, and in 1611 he was employed by Tempesta to assist in etching the drawing for The Funeral Book of the Queen of Spain which was commissioned by the grand-ducal court in Tuscany (Bechtel, 14).

In 1611, Callot moved to Florence, earning an income as an independent artist. He initially went to the city to deliver the plates for The Funeral Book of the Queen of Spain. After a brief period in which he undertook less prestigious work, Callot gained the patronage of Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici (Griffiths, 14-16 and Bechtel  14 -16 and Russell). When Cosimo died in 1620, Callot lost this position, and shortly afterwards moved back to Nancy. Over the 1620s, he worked mostly in Nancy, though he was initially dissatisfied his return.  He was also commissioned to etch The Siege of Breda for the Infanta Isabella, who ruled the Spanish Netherlands. In 1629-31, he also visited Paris on multiple occasions, where he sketched and planned images and organised business arrangements with Henriet (Bechtel, 29).

Callot’s style was influenced by masters from whom he learnt through his career. His work retouching plates of engravings of images by Carracci, during his time in Thomassin’s workshop, has been noted as one possible means by which Callot developed skills in the use of light and shade (Bechtel, 13). In Florence, Callot learned from Giulio Parigi how to work in fluid lines (Averill, 29). There he also learnt to use theatrical devices, such as the placement of bordering figures at the fore of an image to frame the action within, as seen in the figures leaning on hay bales in this image, and developed a talent for the depiction of fantastical content, depicting Florentine carnivals and court entertainments (Griffiths, 12). During his career, Callot made two technological developments in the craft of etching. Callot used thick lute-maker’s varnish, which was a more reliable ground for etching, and allowed whole or parts of a plate to be dipped into acid multiple times to create deeper lines or make corrections. He also developed the échoppe, an etching tool which made thinning and widening lines in a similar fashion to the engraver’s burin (Griffiths, 12 and Goldfarb, 13).

Whilst the scene depicted in “Death and Beggary by the Roadside” initially seems to speak of the general consequences of war, the series within which it was published has also been referred to as ‘The Life of the Soldier’, a title that suggests its specific subject matter (Goldfarb, 16). The series depicts the soldiers being enrolled and engaging in battle before a taking a swift moral turn, committing crimes which chiefly affect peasants and villagers. Soldiers are then punished, through direct military means including hanging and the wheel, as well as through outcomes of what may be interpreted as natural justice. The print “Death and Beggary by the Roadside” falls within this latter group, along with an image of “Sick and wounded” soldiers begging alms at a convent, ironically having earlier pillaged a similar institution, while the threat of social unrest and retribution looms in “the Peasants’ Revenge”. The final image of the series depicts the “Distribution of Awards” to soldiers. The series is often called the Large Miseries of War, having been developed from earlier studies which were printed posthumously. The holdings of the Baillieu Library Prints collection are representative of the state in which Callot sent his engraving to Israël Henriet. Copies held elsewhere include inscriptions describing the images, which were most likely those of Michel de Marolles, Abbé de Villeloin, an avid collector of prints (Wolfthal, 222).

Historian George Clark published a series of lectures in 1958 which argued that for Europeans in the seventeenth century, war was an inevitable part of life. He wrote that “war was not a mere succession of occurrences but an institution, a regular and settled mode of action, for which provision was made in the ordering of social life”(Clark, 9-10). In Callot’s lifetime, the residents of Lorraine experienced war on multiple occasions (Bechtel, 8-11). Following involvement by Duke Charles IV of Lorraine in antagonising the French court of Louis XIII during the early 1630s, the duchy was besieged and defeated on multiple occasions, as the duke made and broke treaty arrangements with the French. In 1633, Nancy was occupied by the French. (Wilson, 489 -490 and Bechtel, 30-31). During this period, Lorraine was also afflicted with an outbreak of the plague (Bechtel, 31). So too, during this period, many in Europe became familiar with the experience of war, particularly through the roaming conflicts of the Thirty Years War. The series has been viewed as part of a turn in Callot’s later career towards more sombre content, being completed in the same year as The Death of St. Sebastian.

While the context in which Callot made this work is well-known, the intent of the artist is less clear. Diane Wolfthal has outlined some of the interpretations of Les Misères, which include the argument that the artist aimed to make a proto-socialist or a pacifist statement (Wolfthal, 222-232). In particular, questions surround the final image – the awarding of the soldiers – and whether it was satirical or sincere (Wolfthal, 233). However, Wolfthal suggests that the series should be seen as invoking moral reflection on war rather than a direct comment (Wolfthal, 233).

Further details coming soon.
Averill, Esther, Eyes on the World: The Story and Work of Jacques Callot; His Gypsies, Beggars, Festivals, “Miseries of War” and Other Famous Etchings and Engravings, Together with an Account of his days, New York:  Funk and Wagnalls, 1969. 

Bechtel, Edwin, Jacques Callot, New York: George Braziller, 1955.

Clark, George, War and Society in the Seventeenth Century, London: Cambridge University Press, 1958.

Daniel, Howard (ed.), Callot’s Etchings, New York: Dover Publications, 1974.

Goldfarb, Hilliard T. “Callot and The Miseries of War: the artist, his intentions and his context”, in Fatal Consequences: Callot, Goya and the Horrors of War, New Hampshire: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 1990. 13-36

Griffiths, Antony, Wilson-Bareau, Juliet and Willett, John, Disasters of War: Callot, Goya and Dix, Manchester: National Touring Exhibitions, 1998.

Kahan, Gerald,  Jaques Callot : Artist of the Theatre, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1976.

Meaume, Édouard, Recherches sur la Vie et les Ouvrages de Jacques Callot, Paris, 1860.

Meaume, Édouard, Researches sur quelques artistes lorrains: Claude Henriet ; Israël Henriet ; Israël Silvestre et Ses Descendants, Paris, 1852.

Maxime Préaud. “Henriet, Israël.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, (accessed September 19, 2010).

Russell, H. D., “Jacques Callot”, In Grove Art Online, Oxford Art Online,, (accessed August 31, 2010)

Wilson, Peter H., Europe’s Tragedy: a History of the Thirty Years War, London: Allen Lane, 2009.

Wolfthal, Diane, “Jacques Callot’s Miseries of War”, Art Bulletin, June 1977, vol. 59, Issue 2, 222-234.

Related Prints in University of Melbourne collection include:

Title page to the large Miseries of War (Les grandes Misères de la guerre, accession no. 1985.2021.000.000)

The Enrolment (accession no. 1959.2117.000.000)

The Battle (accession no. 1959.2118.000.000)

Attack on a farmhouse (accession no. 1959.2119.000.000)

Ransacking an inn (accession no. 1959.2120.000.000)

Burning a convent (accession no. 1959.2121.000.000)

The strappade (accession no. 1959.2123.000.000)

The Wheel (accession no. 1959.2124.000.000)

Cripples begging alms at a convent (accession no. 1959.2127.000.000)

Death and beggary by the roadside (accession no. 1959.2126.000.000)

The peasants’ revenge (accession no. 1959.2125.000.000)


Tillie Stephens, University of Melbourne student enrolled in the subject Medieval Manuscripts and Early Print.

Edited by Tim Ould, research assistant on this project and PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Melbourne.

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