the height of printmaking


Rarely have life’s sweetness and bitterness been embraced with more evenhanded genius than in the work of Jacques Callot. The seventeenth-century French printmaker finds an ethics of vision—a way of grappling with whatever the world has to offer—in the indomitable force and lucidity of his line. Revered from his own day down to ours by those who see possibilities for transcendence in the printmaker’s technical know-how, Callot has nevertheless been a fairly minor figure in the art history books, no matter that some of his impressions of the horrors of war are as indelible as Goya’s and that his reflections on the pleasures of the theater and the fairground rival those of Rubens and Watteau. Within the frequently Lilliputian dimensions of his prints—some of the most famous ones are little more than two inches high—Callot represented beggars, gypsies, soldiers, actors, and the ladies and gentlemen of the court. He etched Biblical stories, royal festivals, hunts, battles, gardens, landscapes, and seascapes. “Princes & Paupers: The Art of Jacques Callot,” mounted at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, is a brave attempt to raise Callot’s profile. It has been many years since this country saw a major show with a catalogue devoted to an artist I would rank among the peerless image makers and storytellers of European art. Allow yourself to succumb to Callot’s work and you will experience a concentrated high.

more from Jed Perl at TNR here.