CreditsThis online exhibition is inspired by a 2011 display in the lobby of the Frick Fine Arts Building at the University of Pittsburgh, curated by Isabelle Chartier.
We’d like to thank Professor Kirk Savage for giving us the opportunity to explore this body of works from the UAG collection; Rachel Miller, PhD Candidate, and Shana Cooperstein, French and Art History Graduate, for their considerable work in the 2010 inventory.
The University Art Gallery owns a collection of 667 seventeenth-century prints by renowned etcher Jacques Callot (1592-1635) and by some of his followers. Acquired by the Frick Fine Arts Department in 1947, the prints were inventoried in 1972; at that time, however, the prints which were not by the hand of Callot himself were classified as mere “copies.” A 2010-2011 study and a more complete inventory of this collection have led to different interpretations.
A reflection on copies and reproductions cannot be avoided in the field of printmaking, as its process is inherently reproductive; put simply, a print is a transfer of an image from a plate. In early printmaking, this image is often itself a copy from a drawing, a painting, or even another print. Furthermore, a plate can produce multiple impressions of the same image, allowing a broad circulation of prints.
Because of this aspect of multiplicity, prints have sometimes been associated with “low” art. To give printmaking a higher artistic status, original prints have been opposed to reproductive prints. The first category assumes the creative genius of the printmaker and the print itself as a work of fine art, while the second one tends to confine the printmaker as a professional copyist, devoid of any intention or creative discernment. It should be emphasized however, that every print is the finished product of a creative process.
The hierarchy between copies and originals has changed over time. In the modern conception, partly because of the development of photomechanical technologies, a copy is often associated with forgery. Reproductive printmaking, perceived as a second-class activity, has recently regained its artistic character of its own.
Indeed, the value of copies lies in many aspects. Since antiquity, copying has been a necessary exercise in artists’ training. For many centuries, it played an important role in the development of the print market, as collectors were looking for reproductions of artworks, otherwise unavailable, to complement their private collections. Today, many copies preserve the memory of lost artworks.
Copies significantly contributed to the circulation of ideas, styles and artistic motifs. For art historians in particular, they play an essential role in understanding tastes and practices in art. It is important to distinguish terms such as reproduction, imitation, duplication and forgery, although their boundaries can be blurry. This selection of prints by, or after, Jacques Callot, aims to shed some light on some of the contradictions intrinsically related to printmaking, as well as to show how the copies
are genuine artworks of the seventeenth century. Both as art historical objects and works of fine art, one thing is clear about these works: they point to the considerable influence of one of the greatest etchers in the history of prints.