is a painting by the Italian Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
The work represents an important milestone for Caravaggio. He painted it when he was attempting an independent career after leaving the workshop of the Cavaliere Giuseppe Cesari d'Arpino
Giuseppe Cesari was an Italian Mannerist painter, also named Il Giuseppino and called Cavaliere d'Arpino, because he was created Cavaliere di Cristo by his patron Pope Clement VIII. He was much patronized in Rome by both Sixtus V.-Biography:Cesari's father had been a native of Arpino, but...
, for whom he had been painting "flowers and fruit", finishing the details for the Cavaliere's mass-produced (and massive) output. Caravaggio left Arpino's workshop in January 1594 and began selling works through the dealer Costantino, with the assistance of Prospero Orsi, an established painter of Mannerist grotesques (masks, monsters, etc.). Orsi introduced Caravaggio to his extensive network of contacts in the world of collectors and patrons.
The painting shows an expensively-dressed but unworldly boy playing cards with another boy. The second boy, a cardsharp
A card sharp is a person who uses skill and deception to win at poker or other card games...
, has extra cards tucked in his belt behind his back, out of sight from the mark but not the viewer, and a sinister older man is peering over the dupe's shoulder and signaling to his young accomplice. The second boy has a dagger handy at his side, and violence is not far away.
It was the second such painting Caravaggio created. The first, The Fortune Teller
The Fortune Teller is a painting by Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It exists in two versions, both by Caravaggio, the first from 1594 , the second from 1595...
, had drawn attention, and this painting extended his reputation, small though it was at this stage. The subjects of The Fortune Teller
offered something new, realistic scenes of street life, especially with this beautifully rendered attention to little details such as the split fingers on the older man's gloves, or the teenage cheat's anxious glance at his master. The psychological insight is equally striking, the three figures bound together by the common drama, yet each with his own unique play within the larger play - for if the innocent is being duped, the other boy is no older, another innocent being corrupted even as he cheats his gull. Cardsharps
, with its mixture of brutal low-life realism and luminous Venetian delicacy, was much admired, and Orsi "went around acclaiming (Caravaggio's) new style and heightening the reputation of his work." Over fifty copies and variants made by other painters have survived, with artists such as Georges de La Tour
Georges de La Tour was a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648...
painting their own appreciations of the theme.
Whether through Costantino or Orsi, Caravaggio came to the notice of the prominent collector Cardinal Francesco Del Monte
Francesco Maria Del Monte, full name Francesco Maria Bourbon Del Monte Santa Maria, was an Italian Cardinal, diplomat and connoisseur of the arts...
, who purchased Cardsharps
and became the artist's first important patron, giving him lodgings in his Palazzo Madama
Palazzo Madama is a palace in Rome that is currently the home of the Senate of the Italian Republic.It was built atop the ruins of the ancient baths of Nero, next to Piazza Navona...
behind the Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is a city square in Rome, Italy. It is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD, and follows the form of the open space of the stadium. The ancient Romans came there to watch the agones , and hence it was known as 'Circus Agonalis'...
, then as now a main square in Rome.
From Del Monte's collection the work entered the collection of Cardinal Antonio Barberini
Antonio Barberini was an Italian Catholic cardinal, Archbishop of Reims, military leader, patron of the arts and a prominent member of the House of Barberini. As one of the cardinal-nephews of Pope Urban VIII and a supporter of France, he played a significant role at a number of the papal...
, nephew of the Pope Urban VIII (whose pre-elevation portrait, Portrait of Maffeo Barberini
, Caravaggio would paint in 1598), in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...
and was passed through the Colonna-Sciarra family. It eventually disappeared in the 1890s, and was rediscovered in 1987 in a private European collection; it was subsequently sold to and is currently in the collection of the Kimbell Art Museum
The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, hosts a small but excellent art collection as well as traveling art exhibitions, educational programs and an extensive research library. Its initial artwork came from the private collection of Kay and Velma Kimbell, who also provided funds for a new...
in Fort Worth, Texas
Fort Worth is the 16th-largest city in the United States of America and the fifth-largest city in the state of Texas. Located in North Central Texas, just southeast of the Texas Panhandle, the city is a cultural gateway into the American West and covers nearly in Tarrant, Parker, Denton, and...
British art historian Denis Mahon
discovered in December, 2007, that a copy of Cardsharps
previously believed to have been the work of someone else was actually Caravaggio's own. The pentimento
A pentimento is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his mind as to the composition during the process of painting...
, in which full detail of the face of one of the cheats had been sketched in spite of being painted over by the page's hat pointed to the extreme unlikelihood that it was done by a copy artist.