National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 9-10 (V:1-2), 1967

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A Drawing by Jacques Callot

by Mary C. Taylor, Assistant Curator
Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Canada

Résumé en français

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The Department of Prints and Drawings has  recently purchased a drawing Étude de cheval se cabrant (Study of a Rearing Horse), masterpiece of Baroque draughtsmanship by  the French seventeenth-century artist, Jacques Callot (1592-1635}. It can be identified as one of a series of horse drawings which Callot did in Florence during the years 1615 to 1617. (1)

Callot has only recently emerged from the shadows of semi-legendary detail which surrounded his personality ever since his biographer, Félibien, remarked that he ran away from home with gypsies at the age of 12 to learn the art of engraving in Rome. The clarification of certain facts about Callot in a less picturesque but more truthful direction is largely due to Daniel Ternois in his two recent monographs on the artist. (2) Callot was born at Nancy, studied and worked in Italy and, after the death in 1621 of his patron, Cosimo II de' Medici, returned to spend the last 14 years of his life in Lorraine.

In his Catalogue complet Ternois publishes a series of drawings of horses done in the same medium and style as the National Gallery's recent acquisition. (3) The drawings are identified as copies which Callot made after a series of 28 horses engraved by Antonio Tempesta in 1590. (4) Callot had worked with Tempesta briefly during a short stay in Rome before 1612, but the copies were made while he was at the Florentine court. (5) Since the publication of the initial 12 sheets others have come to light, (6) and the Ottawa drawing is another addition to the group.

Our drawing differs from others in the series in that here Callot makes fuller use of dry brush strokes to model the forms while retaining the calligraphic line evident in all the drawings. The rather curious series of curved parallel lines over the horse's mane and back are lines drawn on the verso which show through and which coincidentally accentuate the general movement. This emphasis on solid forms and dynamic movement places the drawing squarely in the mainstream of the period. It is as if Tempesta's original horses had matured with the times and had become, under the hand of Callot, as fully formed and splendidly ebullient as the early seventeenth century itself.

Known chiefly, until recently, for his grotesque figures (often drawn in crabbed, irregular pen line), or for his small and painfully trenchant sketches of the horrors of the Thirty Year's War, Callot shows himself here in his affluent and optimistic youth. It is difficult to believe that fewer than 20 years intervene between this rearing charger and the starved nags of later drawings.

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