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The Cardsharps
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How did Caravaggio dream up this 16th century hustler, scamming a card game and about to get busted?

His own run from the law, which you can read all about in his bio, fueled his interest in painting petty criminals. Just your basic artful dodgers taking advantage of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youths. The scene certainly seems more risqué than the old folks' game from Paul Cézanne's The Card Players.

See, in The Cardsharps, which was the old-fashioned way to say cardshark, we have an apparently rich adolescent, decked out in some 16th century finery, gazing at his cards thoughtfully. The kid he’s up against seems comparatively street-smart and definitely has some cards up his sleeve. Wait no, more like tucked in his rad pantaloons. The guy in the back is like “Watch out, bro! This mother****** is out to fleece ya!”

This is one of those awesome Caravaggio paintings that communicates everything through one gesture and expression. In this case, it’s the popping eyeball and pointed finger of the well-meaning mustache guy that shows you it's high stakes.

The painting wasn’t believed to be a genuine Caravaggio until X-rays revealed the under drawings. David Hockney uses this image in his documentary Secret Knowledgea film that argues a bunch of these famous artists cheated by using optical devices to get such incredible details.

But don’t believe everything David says. He's just jelly. Caravaggio was truly kick-ass, and not just 'cause he made it cool for boys to wear pink feathers.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Cardsharps

The Cardsharps (painted around 1594) is a painting by the Italian Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The original is generally agreed to be the work acquired by the Kimbell Art Museum in 1987, although Caravaggio may have painted more than one version.

History

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, 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.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Cardsharps.