Daily Art Moment: Jacques Callot

The Temptation of St Anthony, Jacques Callot, etching, plate: 12 1/8 x 18 inches, sheet: 13 13/16 x 18 inches. A landscape-oriented print depicting a hellish scene filled winged demons and monsters amid architectural rubble. The upper center of the black on cream colored paper print is dominated by a large, winged creature with clawed hands, horns and a gaping mouth out of which spews more fire breathing demons. The creature’s wings are spread in flight as are its well-muscled limbs. More demons cling to the larger one which clutches sheaves of fire in its claws at left and has a serpent wrapped around its limb at right. Below this demon is a frenetic scene of smaller demons and monsters who swarm and torture. The print’s edge at left shows a rocky outcropping in the foreground on which monsters cling. The background shows the ruins of a large stone structure and beyond that is a house in flames. In the middle ground at left, demons and monsters parade lead by four-legged beasts and a bony carcass. The middle foreground holds another beast this time with two hind legs and large wheels for front legs being driven by a fury demon while it breathes fire and rolls over another demon. The print’s edge at left shows more rock outcroppings, each festooned with demons. Beyond this is an architectural façade of a series of arches that tower above a smaller stone arch. It is in front of this arch that St Anthony stands, in long robes and halo, being pushed, pulled and tortured by an assortment of demons. Jeering demons hang off the stone arch above him. To the left of the Saint, a winged beast being ridden by a demon, spews fire at him. The entire scene is alive with demons flying in the sky, climbing rocks and ruins and torturing one another. The etching features heavy crosshatching to achieve light and dark effects. A thin border of cream encompasses the top and sides of the print with a thicker border along the bottom. This border contains a large center crest flanked by writing in Latin.

For many artists, printmaking is the ideal medium in which to explore the mysterious, the unseen, and the unknowable. Demons and monsters hold a special appeal, as seen in this recent acquisition, an etching by Jaques Callot. This sheet depicts the legend of St. Anthony, an early Christian abbot who retreated to the Egyptian desert to meditate, but was repeatedly tempted by the Devil. The subject has long been a favorite of artists from medieval times to the present. Artists as diverse as Michelangelo and Salvador Dalí have taken up the challenge of depicting the evils that befell the pious saint. Callot was no exception, lavishing detail and imagination on the various winged demons and monsters torturing each other and tempting Anthony. The saint stands at the lower right, fending off five demons and a hellhound, his right foot already enchained (see detail). As a solitary figure fighting off a realm of demons, St. Anthony can be seen as a symbol for the common man in a world gone mad.

Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings

Jacques Callot (French, 1592–1635). The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1635. Etching. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Portland Fine Print Fair Fund, 2020.20.1

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