The Military Hospital: Jacques Callot and the "Miseries of War" (1633)


Jacques Callot (1592-1635) "The Angry Warrior" (1619)


This is part of a larger work on the depiction of military hospitals in literature, art, and film.

See a summary of Callot's work here.


When one thinks of war the image of a hospital does not normally spring to mind. Rather we have been accustomed by the traditional accounts of war to see in our mind's eye a range of other images ranging from the heroic to the technological. An older image of war which is still quite powerful despite its near obsolescence is the heroic and glorious image of battle typified by the cavalry charge or that of men in the trenches of the First World War going "over the top." Although time and over-use has turned these images into clichés they are still appealing and deep-rooted in popular culture. Added to this is the more modern image of war as the conflict of highly technologically refined weapons rather than of men. Can one think of the Second World War or Vietnam without seeing the waves of bombers flying off to bomb a distant target in Germany, the balletic spiralling of fighters circling each other seeking the exposed underbelly of their opponent, or the billowing explosion of napalm dropped at treetop height from a screaming F-4 Phantom over Vietnam. This latter image has come to dominate the popular attitude of what any future war might "look like." The well crafted computer graphics produced by unknown research labs in the USA show us images of observation and particle-beam or laser satellites protecting the heartland from missile attack by the Russians. These images are significant in the way they entirely remove any indication of human participation from the battlefront. Satellites and computers occupy the front with an assumed human control taking place far off stage.

If one does have an image of the human suffering ineluctably associated with the outcome of these fantasies of heroism or technological prowess it has usually taken the form of an image of a whole human being with some superficial wound to a limb - the cavalry officer with a bloody bandage to the head or the limping Tommy leaning upon a comrade as they trudge to the aid station behind the trenches. Suffering is also acknowledged to be psychological, thus one is permitted to imagine an exhausted soldier, holding his head in his hands, trying to confront and contain his own hasty and incomplete images of the battle recently fought. But is is noteworthy that the popular image of war has avoided dealing with the fact of dismemberment, the inevitable result of advances in high explosives and the design of bullets and rifles. As the Polish writer Jean de Bloch observed in the late 1890s the predictable consequence of military innovations in artillery and rifle technology meant that a war victim was much more likely to be explosively torn apart by a bullet than to be "merely" penetrated. Neat holes through flesh were to be replaced by massively traumatised flesh and bone as the typical wound of the future. Naturally, the representation of war in fiction, memoirs, film and television has shied away from confronting this most unsavoury and shocking fact.

As wounds have become more dreadful and the sheer number of combatants in the war zone has increased in the last two hundred years it is also inevitable that the military would endeavour to do something about it, most notably by establishing military hospitals. The first attempts to organise such facilities in the mid-nineteenth century were bumbling, half-hearted and inept as Florence Nightingale discovered to her horror in the Crimea in 1855. But these attempts continued until the modern and highly efficient and technologically advanced military hospital emerged towards the end of the Second World War and which reached its apogee in Korea and Vietnam. One of the reasons for the development of the military hospital, apart from any humanitarian concern which the military might have, was to maintain the morale  of the frontline soldier. In order to get him to advance on orders to confront the enemy he had to know that if he were injured that he would be taken care of quickly enough to ensure a high probability of survival.

The military hospital has become such a fixture of modern warfare that it has entered popular culture in a surprising way. Could one have predicted the success of a television programme about the lives of doctors and nurses in the war zone during the Korean War? Although "M*A*S*H*" is usually coy about the true nature of the wounds received by injured American soldiers, and shows only a token amount of blood and gore in the operating theatres, and certainly avoids dealing with the more traumatic disfigurements, burns and amputations, it is remarkable that these images were accepted by the prime time viewing audiences. In spite of these inadequacies the series did stress that death and injury is an inevitable outcome of war fighting and showed to some extent the personal cost inflicted upon both the soldiers who were injured as well as those who had to care for them.

Another stage was reached with the more recent (both in terms of when it was made and when it was set) series "China Beach" which, although like "M*A*S*H*" has a natural enough tendency to become more involved with the lives of the doctors and nurses than with the injured who are just passing through or even passing away, for the first time dealt with death in a serious manner. One of the characters in early episodes, a black soldier, was in charge of the mortuary where we saw him talking to his charges, discreetly covered in plastic, trying to sort out his own personal problems created by the war. This important but at the same time unexpected aspect to the show soon disappeared as the series degenerated into another nostalgia piece - part soap opera about the lives and loves of doctors and nurses, part vehicle for the playing of 1960s popular music. What had been a promising attempt to deal with the bloodier and deadlier side of the Vietnam War ultimately shied away from the implications of what it had begun and now portrayed death and injury in a much less morally satisfactory but certainly popularly acceple manner. Death and suffering has now become, as it too did in "M*A*S*H*" as well, became utterly banale, serving only as a sorry backdrop to the main characters and their lives. One might now refer to the "banality of injury" in such programmes where one gradually becomes inured to the death and suffering through familiarity. Thus the popular perception of war might have changed under the influence of these two popular television programmes "M*A*S*H*" and "China Beach." Perhaps now, when one asks for an image of war which comes to mind, the picture of a hospital ward filled with bandaged men flashes into view.

The purpose of this chapter is explore this neglected aspect of war - the war hospital - as it has appeared in novels, art, film and of course the personal recollections of those who worked in them. Before military hospitals became more common in the nineteenth century the reference to organised treatment of the war injured is rather sparse. The Lorraine engraver Jacques Callot depicts a sad fate for those injured in any of the conflicts of the Thirty Years War of the seventeenth century. Neglected by their own armies, the injured seek what little relief they can from religious charity or are simply left to die by the roadside. With the rise of liberalism in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century came a more humanitarian attitude to those injured in battle. For the first time there erupted popular outrage at the reports of British military incompetence and inhumanity by William Russell, The Times' correspondent in the Crimea. The result was the publicly funded relief mission of Florence Nightingale. The need for individual charity was the response of the Genevan businessman, Henri Dunant, who wrote an agonisingly accurate account of the Battle of Solferino in 1859. The public concern which it stimulated resulted in the formation of the Red Cross, even if it left the professional military untouched. Others have also recognised the importance of the hospital and its unfortunate occupants as an integral part of what war fighting is all about. Only in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries has this concern emerged in parallel with the rise of destructiveness and lethality of modern war. Responses have ranged from the meticulous documentiaton of the suffering that occurs as a result of battle (Hachiya, Jean de Bloch), the expression of shock that men are forced to endure such trials (Émile Zola, the "M*A*S*H*" film), the attempt to alleviate their suffering by providing adequate medical care and attention (Henri Dunant and Florence Nightingale), the dedication of their lives to providing such care (Florence Nightingale and Vera Brittain), to the urging of an end to war to eliminate the need for such medical care in the first place (Vera Brittain).

Let me begin by looking at the work of the Lorraine engraver Jacques Callot (1592-1635) who witnessed battles and their after effects during the Thirty Years War.

Jacques Callot's Image of the Injured Soldier in "The Miseries of War" (1633)

Jacques Callot's heart-rending picture of the neglect of injured soldiers during the Thirty Years War shows what must have been the typical treatment of soldiers for millenia before armies themselves began to organise care for injured soldiers. Callot was born in Nancy, in Lorraine, a very strong Catholic area which became entangled in the religious conflict between Catholic and Protestant states known as the Thirty Years War. The young Callot went to Italy to study art 1608 and became, at the age of twenty two the court artist to the Medicis in Florence. One of his official tasks as court artist was to record official events such as court festivals and theatrical performances as well as to produce commissioned work for the Catholic religious orders in the city. On his return to Nancy in 1621 Callot cast his trained and observant eye over the ravages of the economy and population of his native region brought about by the first three years of the war. In the following years he documented many aspects of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) which decimated parts of France, Germany, and Netherlands as the struggle between the Bourbon monarchy in France and the Holy Roman Empire of the Hapsburgs intensified for the domination of Europe.

The massive armies which were required to wage war over an extended period of time needed heavy taxation to sustain them. The imposition of a heavy burden of tax led to tax rebellions by peasantry. But more often, the peasants were forced to succumb and endure the other costs of war as well. The countryside was ravaged as hungry, ill-paid and ill-disciplined troops marched back and forth. The resultant economic depression and crisis handicapped European economic development (especially that of the German states) for more than a century. In Callot's home state of Lorraine, the contending armies occupied or passed over it many times during the war leaving the countryside plundered and the population literally halved by disease, starvation and murder. I will return to the art of Callot on several occasions in this work as he is sensitive to issues of war and peace which most artists have ignored. He is especially relevant to the problem of "Military Justice," with his brutal depictions of vengeful executions of ill-disciplined troops, and the general experience of the civilian population of the "Horrors of War."

Callot's engravings on war-related subjects can be broken down into several groups, including the panoramic commemorative pieces such as the "Siege of Breda" which Callot did on commission and which are a strange combination of campaign map and battle picture, individual studies of men-at-arms drilling which seem to have no moral or political purpose behind them, a touching series of sketches of the civilian flotsam and jetsam left behind the front known as "the Beggars" and the "Gypsies," and two "cartoon strip" series of etchings known as the "Small" and "Large Miseries of War." The latter are some of the greatest works of art dealing with war made even more compelling with the extraordinary detail of suffering and devastation which Callot was able to endow his work.


"The Siege of Breda" 1627-29)


"The Small Miseries of War," a series of six etchings done about 1632 (but which were not published until 1635 after Callot's death), can be seen as a preliminary version of the larger group of etchings in which Callot begins to work out the "story line" of his six panels, namely that there is nothing glorious about war but rather it is a series of one atrocity after another, leading to inevitable punishment either by the outraged civilians or by high-minded princes who are conscious of the laws of war and of God. Some of his etchings show how injured and dying soldiers had been cared, or rather not cared for since the war began. Since no assistance was provided by the armies which conscripted or paid them to fight they were left to die on the battle field or to fend for themselves. It was a bleak fact of life for early modern soldiers that more died after the battle from infection and illness than died directly during it.

Callot begins with a "camp scene" where soldiers are eating, drinking, smoking pipes and generally settling in. Callot then takes us through a series of events involving these soldiers. First they attack, rob and kill travellers on a highway, then pillage and set fire to a convent, and plunder and burn a village. In keeping with both Callot's Catholic sense of justice and perhaps his knowledge of historical events his fifth panel shows "The Peasants Avenging Themselves" presumably on the very same soldiers who had pillaged, burnt, stolen and raped their way across the countryside. Using pitch-forks, flails, scythes, stolen guns and clubs the unidentified peasants get their own back (literally since some stop to loot the fallen soldiers) thus enabling Callot to comment upon the nature of justice and retribution in time of war. This will be discussed in more detail in the chapter on "Executions and Military Justice."



Callot concludes his bloodthirsty little tale with  a panel called "The Hospital" in which a dozen or so injured, dying and mutilated soldiers seek assistance from a church "hospital." In the lower right-hand coner of the etching a man with a crutch presents a piece of paper (perhaps a request for assistance or documentation authenticating the fact that they are legitimate soldiers of the local lord) to a religious official at the doorway to the hospital. He is accompanied by another man with a crutch, two men with bandages to the head, a man kneeling (perhaps legless), another man on crutches, and two men with padding in their hands who obviously have to crawl because of injuries to their legs. Other men with unidentified wounds join the queue hoping for relief of food, medical attention or just rest in the courtyard of the hospital. In the bottom right-hand corner of the etching is a pitiful group of four men, one lying on some straw against a building obviously in pain or close to dying, another man sitting in a forlorn pose next to him,  a monk/religious figure attending to the dying man (perhaps giving the last rights, but certainly bending over to help), and the fourth holding a dish with perhaps food or sacramental oil. The contrast between the first and last panel is striking. The carefree enjoyment of food, drink, tobacco in the surrounds of a pleasant shaded camp-site has given way, after four episodes of atrocities, to the desperation and pity of forgotten and abandoned injured soldiers begging for assistance from a local church. We see no honourable battle, no heroic exploits, no victory but the pathetic picture of crippled and dying men with no where to go. One is led to the conclusion that Callot is expressing the clear view that war is miserable for both the common soldier and the civilian peasant and that their most likely end, if they survive at all, is that of a crippled beggar at the mercy of the church's charity.

The following year 1633 Callot expanded his story of the "Miseries of War" to eighteen panels which were now called "The Miseries and Tribulations (Malheurs) of War" or also known as "The Large Miseries of War."  The opening camp scene has been replaced by a more martial scene of "Recruitment" with men signing up and going through elementary drills with pike and gun. Following this is what appears at first sight to be a traditional "Battle Scene." In the foreground men on horseback fight amidst swirling smoke and dust, whilst in the background ranks of men on foot clash head on. However, when one looks more closely it becomes apparent that this is not a typical battle picture in which the heroic exploits of the combatants are depicted. Unlike other pictures, one cannot distinguish friend from foe since all seem to be dressed alike, the smoke and dust of battle obscurs a large part of the picture, and in the very near foreground, placed in a position to receive maximum emphasis lie the bodies of half a dozen fallen horses and six or seven men. Rarely in a battle picture does one see such a graphic warning of the inevitable results of armed conflict. As we will later see when we discuss the problem of "Innocent Victims" the death and injury to horses is an issue taken up by several people. Apparently the horse is often used as a symbol of what can happen in war to those who had no say in its course or origin.

The other panels in "The Large Miseries of War" follow the plan of the earlier sketch. There are now five panels depicting atrocities against civilians whereas before there were only three. In addition, there is a panel showing the "Discovery of the Criminals", i.e. the military authorities themselves attempting to limit the destructiveness of the troops by arresting those soldiers who have become renegades. Punishment for these crimes in the "Small Miseries" was only through the action of the avenging peasants. In the expanded version there are five very gruesome panels showing official punishments as well as a much more detailed and graphic panel of the avenging peasants. The particular panels which concern us here are the two etchings in which Callot shows the neglect and suffering of the injured soldiers abandoned by their armies. Once again, there has been an expansion and increase in detail in the progression from the small to the large version of the "Miseries of War." The single panel in "The Small Miseries" showing the injured and maimed seeking relief at the hospital and the dying soldier perhaps receiving the last rites has been split into two panels "The Hospital" and "Dying Men by the Roadside." [Below are images which are 900 pixels wide. See a larger version of 1350 pixels: "The Hospital" and "Dying Soldiers by the Road".]


"The Hospital"


"Soldiers dying by the Road"


The Hospital" focuses exclusively on the living who seek medical attention and food from the church and now has a much more populated tableau than the first version. There are three points of interest in the etching - a soup line in the middle ground to the right where about ten crippled soldiers line up to receive a bowl of soup, a well in the middle of the church hospital courtyard where two maimed soldiers wave their crutches over their heads as the are dowsed with water and next to which a person washes either filthy clothes or bandages, and a line of about sixteen soldiers approaching the priest at the main entrance to the hospital. Most of the latter appear to be amputees. Those missing one leg hobble along on a crutch and a wooden prosthesis. The double amputees, about six in all, drag themselves along with their hands in the mud and dirt. One comes away from "The Hospital" of the "Large Miseries" with the impression that Callot has dramatically escalated the scale of war and its concomitant suffering in the interval between the composition of the two versions of the etching. The number of double amputees have been increased by a factor of two from three to six, the number of single amputees from three to perhaps five, and overall the number of figures in the picture from twenty five to forty six. This suggest that Callot became convinced that the scale of the suffering and injury caused by the Thirty Years War had to be reflected in his work.

"Dying Men by the Roadside" takes the individual dying soldier in the first version and places him in a larger group of similarly afflicted individuals. Some soldiers go from delapidated house to house begging for food, others stop travellers in the street to receive a small token of alms, but our attention is drawn to the foreground where four terminally ill and emaciated soldiers await their death on piles of filthy straw at either side of the road. They are atttended by clerics who now obviously are applying the last rites, one soldier in the right hand corner can be seen to be taking communion from a priest. The others lie in various poses of agony waiting for death to end their vale of tears. As with the previous panel, Callot has increased the number of dying from one to four and shows the fate of those unlucky enough to survive who must beg to survive. After surveying the bleak picture to the right and left our eye is eventually drawn to the centre where a man and a woman kneel as they witness the giving of the last rites to the soldier. The woman speaks for us all when she extends her arms in the pose of suffering (see Picasso's Guernica and the picture of a grieving woman at Kent State University in Oppler's collection) and looks to heaven, calling on God to spare the soldier.

I have discussed Callot's work in some detail because I believe he has captured for the first time in art an important aspect of war which until then had remained ignored and forgotten. The fate of the injured soldier was rarely mentioned, if at all, in classical and medieval accounts of warfare. Attention was given to the exploits of the warrior who either vanquished his enemy or was in turn vanquished by his. What happened to those who did not die immediately, who lived long enough after receiving their wounds to endure the further agony of recovery to face a life of begging and hobbling, was not discussed. Maybe Callot's trained eye for detail, so necessary for an etcher, combined with the trauma of seeing his native land ravaged repeatedly in the Thirty Years War, forced him over the edge to see what had always existed before but which no one had bothered to document - the fate of the injured and maimed soldier.