Oct 132008
 

A serene composition unfolds before us (the piece was painted in two different variations: the one below hangs in Louvre, Paris, [visit the great Louvre official site too] , and the next one hangs in Musei Capitolini, Rome, and may be seen in the slideshow on the main page). It may seem as though Caravaggio (Britannica full article on Caravaggio) aimed to appease the audience, to make us feel safe with this serenity. Several features conspire to achieve that effect. First is the neat compositional symmetry: each model occupies roughly half of the canvas and mirrors accurately the gestures of its counterpart — the elbows, the head tilt, the angle of the eye level. Together, the two figures form a round arch, with the plume of the young man’s head-dress marking the pinnacle. Second is the palette: the warm golden-brown tones of the skin and of the background (mixed with soft light, and complemented by the interchange of whites, greens, reds and browns of the garments) underscore the symmetry to further soothe the audience.

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The Fortune Teller, circa 1596-97
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And third, the prevalence of round and curving geometrical forms — gestures of the models (the elbows), their hats, the plump peach colored faces and the above mentioned arch add a half-veiled sense of languor. All of these features combined coax us to lower our guards and revel without reservations in this youthful, infused with sweet naivety, scene. Indeed it may appear that a small idyll takes place before our eyes, as if it is all were a part of a dream. Well, in a way it is — the young man’s dream. As a guy, I tend to think that the whole scene should be viewed from his perspective: it is him who is being appeased and showered with befuddling mead of color. But for what purpose?

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The Fortune Teller, circa 1594
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The boy is being duped by the girl (whose traditional attire, the turban especially, gives away her gypsy origin) who slowly but surely slips a ring off of his finger. It is quite an amazing feat that occurs right in front of our eyes, yet almost impossible to spot. Same goes for the unsuspecting victim, as he is being bewitched by the girl’s gaze and charm. We too are drawn into the imaginary, but thick and powerful galvanism, balancing and quivering on the imaginary line between the two pairs of eyes. The theft is the singular most intense moment in this painting — yet it remains almost undetected, as if passing somewhere below the radar.

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The Fortune Teller, circa 1594
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While the fortune-teller fools the boy, we are being fooled by both actors — by the overall image — by the painter himself. Perhaps Caravaggio’s greatest achievement in this genre scene (painted early in his career) was to force the audience to disregard the fact of larceny even after its discovery — and possibly view it as symbolic representation of the relationship between men and women. Thus, the artist discusses the idea of love, and make us fall in love with this piece along the way.

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