'Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre'.

Jacques Callot was a 17th-century French painter and etcher, best known for his memorable visual report about the Thirty Years' War: 'Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre' ('Miseries of War', 1633). These 18 prints show various war atrocities told in the manner of a narrative, making it an early example of a text comic. In that regard Callot can even be considered the first known French comic artist, nearly three centuries before Cham, Gustave Doré, Honoré Daumier and Nadar. He is also one of the earliest known creators of sequential illustrated narratives whom we can identify by signature, together with Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Frans HogenbergAntonio Tempesta and Otto van Veen

Early life and career
Jacques Callot was born in 1592 in Nancy, France. His father was a master of ceremonies for the local duke. In 1607 Callot became the apprentice of a goldsmith and travelled to Rome, learning the art of engraving from Philippe Thomassin and etching from Antonio Tempesta. Between 1612 and 1621 Callot was a resident of the Italian city Florence. His prints were distributed all through Europe and resulted in numerous commissions by several royal courts. One of his celebrity fans was Rembrandt van Rijn, who owned a lot of his prints. It's not odd that this artistic genius admired the other. Both had an innovative spirit. Callot developed a special etching needle, the "échoppe", which made it possible to use more swelling lines. This was an improvement on earlier techniques, since the acid couldn't seep through the ground onto the etching plate. When Callot visited Antwerp, he met painter Anthony van Dyck, who made a portrait of him. 

From: Varie Figure Gobbi
'Varie Figure Gobbi'.

Callot made hundreds of drawings. Among them a series of caricatures of people who suffer from dwarfism. This collection, 'Varie Figure Gobbi' (1616) was followed by a similar set of caricatures, 'Balli di Sfessania' (1621), which depicted characters from the Italian theatre commedia dell'arte. He also made numerous engravings of nature landscapes, military battles, biblical themes or fairs in Italian and French towns, such as Impruneta and Gondreville. Some of his biblical etchings follow the life of Jesus and various Catholic saints in a sequential manner. This in itself wasn't a new practice. Artists had made picture stories about these topics for centuries. But Callot is one of the few who signed his work. His six etchings of the Battle of Breda (1625) and his 12 etchings of the Battle of La Rochelle (1628) are also interesting for comic historians, as they depict this military event in a series of chronological scenes.

At the time, Callot's drawings of the above mentioned battles were quite succesful. He made the 'Battle of Breda' for the Spanish crown princess Isabella, while French king Louis XIII had commissioned him to make another series of etchings about the Battle of La Rochelle. However, when the French army occupied Callot's native town Lorraine, he lost his respect for the French monarch. Especially when Louis XIII asked him to make an illustration of this invasion. The furious artist sent back a message which stated: "I'd would rather cut off my own thumb!" The ignorant monarch failed to understand the problem and merely raised his offer, even asking Callot to come and live at his palace. Naturally Callot refused again, though eventually he would make a series of drawings about a battle again. Only this time it wouldn't be exactly what the foolish king had in mind...

From: Varie Figure Gobbi
'Varie Figure Gobbi'.

Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre
In 1633, Callot made a series of 18 etchings, 'Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre' ('The Great Miseries of War'). It depicts scenes from the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), told in a chronological narrative. We see the preparations for a battle, the warfare itself and its aftermath. Soldiers attack and pillage a farm, convent and a coach. They burn down a village, killing numerous innocent civilians.  'Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre' ends on a cynical note. The monarch is a few acres richer, while the generals are rewarded for dangerous work actually done by their subordinates. Most soldiers have perished. Those who survived lie crippled in hospitals. The ones who are fit enough to leave become handicapped beggars, or are lynched by victims of their warfare.

Most Europeans at the time considered war a far-away-from-their-bed event, making it easy to romanticize invasions, battles and people perishing. Only those who were actual victims would disagree. And they were "simple commoners", anyway. Callot had the talent and the means to portray these horrors in a powerful, unglorious way. 'Les Grandes Misères' therefore shocked many viewers. Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting 'Triumph of Death' (1566) was the only earlier anti-war work with a similar impact. But he presented war as a metaphor, showing dozens of skeletons defeating mankind in a gruesome battle. Callot, on the other hand, portrays war in harsh reality, as if he was a spectator. Thanks to the small size of the etchings and Callot's use of panoramic shots, we see everything from a distance. There are no recurring, identifiable characters. Dozens of little humans fight pointless wars for imbecilic reasons. It's barely clear who is fighting who, let alone why and what for. All the bloodshed and misery only brings minor victory to the winners. For they will always have to engage in new wars to keep whatever they've conquered. The endless cycle of violence and contra-violence keeps spinning in a pathetic and depressing conclusion. 

Les Grandes Miséres de la Guerre
'Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre'.

Early text comic
Together with Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Frans Hogenberg's picture stories about 'The Spanish Fury' (1576) and the 'Murder of Henry III' (1589), Antonio Tempesta's 'Life of St. Laurentius' (1599) and 'Batavorum cum Romanis Bellum' (1612) and Otto van Veen's 'De Bataafse Opstand' (1600-1613), Jacques Callot's 'Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre' is one of the earliest illustrated sequential narratives with text underneath the images which we can identify by signature. 'Les Grandes Misères' has a written description underneath each image, scripted by print collector Michel de Marolles. Each text has six lines of verse. This makes it comparable to an early text comic. 

Le duel à l'épée
'Le Duel à l'Épée'.

Death, legacy and influence
In 1635 Jacques Callot passed away from stomach cancer. 'Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre' remains his signature work and one of the most iconic anti-war creations. William Hogarth copied imagery for his own 'Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme' (1721). Francisco de Goya's engravings 'Los Desastres de la Guerra' ('The Disasters of War', 1810-1820) were directly inspired by Callot's work and can therefore be considered the spiritual successor. Painter Henri Dechanet paid homage to Callot in his painting 'Homage à Jacques Callot' (1984).

Entrée de Monseigneur Henry de Lorraine Marquis de Moy Soubs le Nom de Pirandre (Entry of Monseigneur Henry de Lorraine, Marquis de Moy, under the Name of Pirandre), 1627
'Entrée de Monseigneur Henry de Lorraine Marquis de Moy Soubs le Nom de Pirandre' ('Entry of Monseigneur Henry de Lorraine, Marquis de Moy, under the Name of Pirandre'), 1627

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