…During the first ten years of actual fighting the Catholics won all the victories, especially after the Emperor acquired the services of Albrecht von Wallenstein- one of the two greatest generals of the war, the other being Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. In 1631 Gustavus turned the tide for the Protestants at the battle of Bretenfeld, and the following year he met Wallenstein at Lutzen. This was another Protestant victory, but Gustavus died on the field; in February 1634, Wallenstein was relieved of his command and was assassinated.
After that, the war dragged on through fourteen years of see-saw fighting, mostly in Germany, and unspeakable degradation. Callot’s famous hangman’s tree compresses into one powerful symbol all the horror of those times- when no one knew when he might be led up the ladder and given a benediction before joining the grisly fruit of its branches.