The Gamblers - 1623
Oil on canvas, 83.8 x 114 cm
Minneapolis Institute of Art
This painting is yet another one of numerous works influenced by Caravaggio's masterpiece The Cardsharps (1596).
Cheating is more subtle in this work than it is in Caravaggio's painting in which the cheating element is glaringly obvious. In this painting an older man is being suckered into a game by two younger hustlers. Although their body language and facial expressions suggest cheating there is no glaring evidence of wrongdoing. Upon closer examination, however, one can discover misspotted dice. Normal dice should bear numbers 3 and 4 on opposite sides (to total 7). In this painting the numbers 3 and 4 are seen on adjoining sides. It is very likely that the artist's intention was to leave the evidence of cheating to be discovered, as opposed to being glaringly obvious as is the case in Caravaggio's painting, as well as other works influenced by Caravaggio.
Just as a point of interest, note the design of 17th century playing cards. The pips are larger and further apart. Also note the absence of corner indices. Unlike the playing cards used today, ancient cards did not have them. Corner indexes were introduced in the 19th century.The first indexed playing cards were produced by the Consolidated Card Company of New York, and were called "Squeezers" because players were able to hold them tight and fan them slightly, only to expose indexes. This seem natural to any card player today, but in ancient times cards were played two-handedly so that a player was able to look at the faces.