Carro di Teti, Jacques Callot
French ballet prints, 17th century. Ballet has its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries. It spread from Italy to France with the help of Catherine de' Medici. In the late 17th century Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opera) within which emerged the first professional theatrical ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet. The predominance of French in the vocabulary of ballet reflects this history.
During Middle Ages, Church considered dance as a sin and condemned it. Records of Medieval dance are fragmented and limited, but a noteworthy dance reference from the medieval period is the allegory of the Danse Macabre. During the Renaissance, dance experienced growing popularity. Country dances, performed for pleasure, became distinct from court dances, which had ceremonial and political functions. In Germany, originated from a modified ländler, the waltz was introduced in all the European courts. The 16th century Queen of France Catherine de' Medici promoted and popularized dance in France and helped develop the ballet de cour. The production of the Ballet Comique de la Reine in 1581 is regarded by scholars as the first authentic ballet. In the 17th century, the French minuet, characterized by its bows, courtesies and gallant gestures, permeated the European cultural landscape.
Printmaking in woodcut and engraving came to Northern Italy within a few decades of their invention north of the Alps. Engraving probably came first to Florence in the 1440s, the goldsmith Maso Finiguerra (1426–64) used the technique. Italian engraving caught the very early Renaissance, 1460–1490. Print copying was a widely accepted practice, as well as copying of paintings viewed as images in their own right.
Jacques Callot was born in Nancy, Lorraine, now France. He came from an aristocratic family and he writes about his noble status in his print inscriptions. He learned engraving in Rome from an expatriate Frenchman, Philippe Thomassin, and probably, from Antonio Tempesta in Florence where he started to work for the Medici. In 1621, he returned to Nancy where he lived for the rest of his life. Although he remained in Nancy, his prints were distributed through Europe. He developed several technical innovations that enabled etching lines to be etched more smoothly and deeply. Now etchers could do the very detailed work that was previously the monopoly of engravers, and Callot made good use of the new techniques. His multiple innovations also achieved unprecedented subtlety in the effects of distance and light even his prints were relatively small – as much as about six inches or 15 cm on their longest dimension. His most famous prints are his two series of prints each on "the Miseries and Misfortunes of War". These images show soldiers pillaging and burning their way through towns before being arrested and executed by their superiors, lynched by peasants, or surviving to live as crippled beggars.