Let me begin by looking briefly at Valentin de Boulogne’s Fortune Teller (1620s) in the Louvre, a representative work by the artist and a representative example of a certain sort of Caravaggesque painting.


Valentin de Boulogne, Fortune Teller, 1620s. Oil on canvas, 125 × 175 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre

I want to use Valentin’s canvas as an initial and recurrent point of reference for a series of remarks about what I take to be a distinctive Caravaggesque pictorial ‘system’ or, perhaps more accurately, pictorial poetics, one which I suggest possesses an internal consistency and rationale such as have never, to my mind, been fully acknowledged. To launch right in: Valentin’s canvas, slightly under five feet high by slightly over five and a half feet wide, depicts in a naturalistic manner derived from post-1600 Caravaggio, which is to say in a style based at once on strong local colour and powerful chiaroscuro, six figures (four men, two women) in a shadowy but otherwise unspecified interior space. The central figures are a standing young woman – by her red and blue dress and dark colouring, as well as by her actions, a gypsy – who is engaged in telling the fortune – reading the palm – of a seated young man in expensive clothes and a feathered hat. (The expensive clothes matter: the viewer is clearly intended to note the fine-textured mastery with which the painter has rendered the seated man’s yellow-ochre damask sleeve, as well as the pattern on his black jerkin).  At the right, a young woman plays a guitar while a seated older man with an unruly grey beard and piercing eyes plays a smallish harp. The harpist appears to be singing and the young woman may be doing so as well. Neither looks at the two principal figures or toward the viewer standing before the painting. Instead the young woman gazes … READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE


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