The art of Jacques Callot in focus for Rice professor and students

Rice University’s Department of Art History and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), are teaming up this spring for a special focus on Jacques Callot, considered one of the most accomplished printmakers of the 17th century.

DIANE WOLFTHAL

The focus includes an exhibition, a seminar for advanced art history undergraduate and graduate students at Rice and a one-day symposium. The exhibition, “Princes and Paupers: The Art of Jacques Callot,” opens at the MFAH Jan. 31 and runs through May 5.

The exhibition was curated by Diane Wolfthal, the David and Caroline Minter Chair in the Humanities and professor of art history at Rice, and Dena Woodall, MFAH assistant curator of prints and drawings. It  will be the first major presentation of Callot’s work to be accompanied by an English-language catalog since the 1970s. Wolfthal and Woodall are team teaching the seminar, for which  the classes will take place at the museum.

An extraordinarily productive artist, Callot created more than 1,400 prints and 2,000 drawings in his short lifetime. (He died at 43 in 1635.) “He revolutionized the technique of etching by developing a new type of needle and perfecting the use of a hard ground and multiple acid bitings,” Wolfthal said. “Moreover, he deeply influenced not only artists of the past, such as Rembrandt and Goya, but also today’s printmakers.”

Callot was an international artist who lived and worked in both Florence, Italy, and Lorraine, in present-day France. “Callot’s etchings are imaginative, inventive and witty, and he was intrigued by a broad range of themes, from theatrical performances and military sieges to Gypsies and beggars,” Wolfthal said. The exhibition reflects this wit and imagination through more than 150 objects, including prints, books and tools. They are part of a private collection.

The focus on Callot is welcome and familiar to Wolfthal, who took a seminar on Callot herself as a graduate student and, with the help of the seminar’s professor, published a paper on Callot in the renowned Art Bulletin journal. “That’s when I first got hooked on Callot,” she said. “I think it will be great for Houston to have this exhibition. It will also be wonderful for the students to work with an actual object rather than just working with an image, to hold a real print in their hands.”

For two Rice art history doctoral students, Carolyn Van Wingerden and Julie Knutson, the exhibition presents a remarkable opportunity. Van Wingerden served in 2011 as an intern in the MFAH’s Department of Prints and Drawings to assist in organizing the exhibition and contribute to the exhibition catalog written by Woodall and Wolfthal. In addition to her internship, she was awarded the Art History Department’s Camfield Fellowship to expand her work on the project in the 2011-2012 academic year.

“While I would have done the work without financial compensation, it was heartening to have my contribution validated by Rice and the MFAH,” Van Wingerden said. “In terms of my own academic career, the greatest boon was being asked to write eight of the 30 catalog entries for the exhibition catalog, which is an opportunity that many would not encounter until much further in their careers.”

Studying his work up close, Van Wingerden was struck by Callot’s progressive perspective. “He was an unusual artist for the time given his interest in marginalized figures, who didn’t regularly make it into art work in this period.”

Knutson was part of the curatorial team and contributed to the exhibition catalog. “One of things that is so impressive is the level of detail with the individual prints,” she said. “If you really look and engage with them up close, there’s so much nuance in the drawings.” Knutson noted Callot’s portrayal of Gypsies. “He provided an alternative perspective on marginalized social groups. It’s far less sensationalized than most depictions of Gypsies that you see in the early modern period.”

The “Art of Jacques Callot” symposium at the MFAH will feature national experts who will investigate the relationship of Callot’s art to contemporary science, music, religion and literature. The symposium is from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 16 and will be followed by a reception. Tickets to the symposium are required and are included as part of a paid admission to the general museum on March 16. Contact lectures@mfah.org for more information.

For more information about the exhibition, visit www.mfah.org/exhibitions/princes-and-paupers-art-jacques-callot. The exhibition will be located in the MFAH’s Audrey Jones Beck Building, 5601 Main St.

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