The Cardsharps Caravaggio Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Painted in 1594, when Caravaggio was 23, The Cardsharps was one of Cardinal Del Monte's first purchases.

Caravaggio painted swiftly, with little preparatory work to the canvas and had a remarkable ability to capture a moment in time.

This early work displays the drama of a situation which must have been all too frequent in Rome in the sixteenth century and offers us, the viewers, a salutary lesson about gambling.

The intended victim of cheating, a fresh-faced youth in elegant and expensive clothes, plays Primero, a precursor of Poker, with another boy, the cardsharp.

In the background, a sinister-looking older man signals the victim's hand to the cardsharp who takes cards from the back of his breeches to cheat and win the game.

More than one version of this painting exists and it has become the subject of controversy in recent years.

The undisputed original is in the Kimbell Art Museum in Forth Worth, Texas. Another version of the painting sold for £42,000 in 2006 through Sotheby's, who catalogued it as a copy by another artist.

The purchaser took a gamble in buying it, carried out further research, and declared it to be an original earlier version by Caravaggio himself and worth £10,000,000, leaving the vendor feeling cheated like the young card player in the painting.

Caravaggio was born in 1571 in the town of the same name in Lombardy, Italy. Named Michelangelo Merisi at birth, this Baroque artist is known now only by the name Caravaggio.

A master of the art of chiaroscuro, the juxtaposition of strong darks with brilliants light in painting, he became famous for the theatrical quality of his works.

Moving to Rome in 1592 he was the archetypal struggling artist, but in 1595 his work caught the eye of a wealthy patron, Cardinal Francesco del Monte, who gave him a home and promoted his work.