(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)

The Cardsharps

c. 1596
Oil on canvas, 92 x 129 cm
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

The Cardsharps, lost for almost a century, has been found and is now in Texas, and helps to fill in an important stage in the development of Caravaggio's art. Behind a table that protrudes into the spectator's space, a youthful innocent studies his cards, overlooked by a sinister middle-aged man, whose fingers signal to another, younger scoundrel to his right, who holds a five of hearts behind his back. To the left-hand side of the canvas is the object of their conspiracy, a pile of coins.

This low-life scene links Caravaggio's discreet dramas to the genre paintings favoured by his followers. It was to have many imitators - within a few years of the painter's death an early variant had been painted by the Franco-Roman Valentin de Boulogne - but few equals. Caravaggio was less melodramatic than many of the artists known as the Caravaggisti who painted in his style, and he suggests only enough of the interaction between the three actors to imply the sequel.