The Cardsharps (a.k.a. The Card Sharpers)
Michelangelo MERISI da CARAVAGGIO (1573 - 1610)

Caravaggio is one of the most influential painters of the 17th Century. In addition the Cardsharps became the model piece for many other works on the cheating theme, painted later by Caraveggio's followers.

Michelangelo Caravaggio: The Card Sharpers

Orphaned at age 11 and living a disorderly and dissipated life, Caravaggio was street smart. His painting, The Cardsharps, makes it obvious that he was familiar, if not quite possibly even associated with rip-off artists of the era.

The Cardsharps, lost for almost a century, is a genre painting (a painting showing an everyday activity of ordinary people) and is considered one of Caravaggio's early masterpieces. A well-dressed young man (the sucker) is playing a game of cards against a card mechanic. As the sucker studies his cards he is overlooked by a sinister middle-aged man (the outside man), who signal his hand to the mechanic across the table. The cheat is reaching behind his back in order to retrieve a card that he is holding out. The sucker appears to be completely unaware of the scam. The gestures and facial expressions give viewers an understanding of the deception and loss of innocence about to occur.

What I find somewhat surprising is that the object of the conspiracy (which must be money) is not seen on the table. However, to the left there is a backgammon board, which suggests that the cardsharps are versatile.

This low-life scene links Caravaggio's discreet dramas to the genre paintings favored by his followers. This particular painting was to have many imitators - within a few years of the painter's death an early variant had been painted by Valentin de Boulogne - but few equals.


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