Jacques Callot (1592–1635) lived and worked in Nancy, the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine (now in France). He worked exclusively as a printmaker and is known for the innovations he developed in the art of etching. Throughout his career, Callot created over 1,400 prints detailing aspects of his surroundings, including soldiers, court life, the poor, the drunk and merry, and scenes of everyday life. Some of his most famous prints include the Miseries of War from 1633, which he created after the French invasion of Lorraine.
Callot’s father was the Duke of Lorraine’s master of ceremonies, leading the artist to identify himself as a noble in the inscriptions of many prints. He travelled to Rome to learn printmaking and etching after being a goldsmith’s apprentice at the age of 15. In Rome, he studied engraving under Frenchman Philippe Thomassin, and later, in Florence, he studied etching, probably under artist Antonio Tempesta. He remained in Florence from 1612 to 1621. While an apprentice under Thomassin, Callot studied line engraving, Flemish art, and the late Mannerist art in Roman churches.
While in Florence, he often worked for the Medici court and became an independent master in the art of printmaking. There are no surviving paintings by the artist, only prints and preparatory drawings, making it unlikely that he ever trained as a painter. When Duke Cosimo II died in 1621, Callot returned to Nancy to work for the Lorraine court. While working in Nancy he created decorative works that depicted ideal representations of daily life. After the 30 Years War and the French invasion of Lorraine, he made the Miseries of War (1633) prints.
Callot’s printing technique was aided by the technical improvements he developed. The first improvement was his creation of the échoppe, a cylindrical etching needle that allowed artists to etch swelling lines, similar to those achieved by engravers. He also used lute-makers varnish to improve the ground used to coat the plates in etchings instead of the typical wax-based ground. This new recipe allowed for deeper etchings, extending the amount of times a plate could be used, and it increased the resistance against ‘foul-biting’, a process where the acid would eat away areas not intended to be etched. Finally, Callot popularized the ‘stopping-out’ method (where the artist would allow acid to lightly etch the plate, then take away the acid from specific areas to keep the etching shallow) developed by other printmakers. This method allowed Callot to introduce more subtle differences in light, shadow, and distance.