Callot's etchings of The Miseries and Sufferings of War are among the best known prints published in seventeenth-century France. This Battle Scene is the third plate in the series, and follows an elaborate title page and a recruiting scene. Subsequent prints record the collapse of discipline as foraging troops turn to pillage, rape and wanton destruction. The miscreants are eventually caught and subjected to judicial torture and execution. Scenes such as these must have been commonplace during the Thirty Years War (1618-48) which was raging at the time, and of which Callot himself seems to have become a victim two years later.
Callot (1592-1635) acquired his artistic training and personality in Italy, where he worked for ten years, first in Rome and then at the ducal court in Florence. He returned to his home town, Nancy in Lorraine, in 1621 with a brilliant and distinctive etching style, characterized by animated little figures in spacious settings.
His technical innovations as an etcher are visible in this signed and dated plate. Instead of drawing in a soft ground incised with an etching needle, Callot has turned a sliced rod (the échoppe) through a stiffer ground so that the acid bites a variously thicker or thinner line, as can be seen in most of the horses and riders. He has also stopped out the background with varnish after a short exposure to the acid, so that it prints lightly, suggesting atmospheric space. Callot thus imposes order and illusionistic depth on a design which could easily have become a confused melée of horses and riders.