Caravaggio played a major role in the transition from renaissance art into baroque by introducing new techniques and bringing extreme realism to the canvas.
In this painting, entitled Cardsharp, we see two men playing cards, and another man observing the game. The plot is simple: the boy whose back is to the viewer and the observer are working together and cheating, attempting to fool their opponent. We can see the boy in the foreground with extra cards tucked into the back of his belt, waiting as his partner in crime glances at the other boys cards and prepares to signal the next move. The cheat is anxiously awaiting the signal, his mouth slightly agape, almost as if he’s not sure he will get away with it. The boy across the table looks relaxed and idyllic; he’s portrayed with a softer face, similar to many renaissance pieces of the time, a technique not typically characteristic of Caravaggio. The man watching over the cards has a look in his eye that suggests he’s working hard to see the cards. His gloves have holes in them, which can be interpreted as a sign of poverty or possibly that he is a practiced cheat. Caravaggio tactfully painted; always having a specific point to make and ensuring the viewer could come to the conclusion or interpret the message. In this painting, like many of his, you can’t just focus on one character. Although he is a very centralized painter, he often creates a path for his viewers to follow at the end of which your eyes are held on the protagonist of the piece. Here has our eyes darting around form one character to another, which allows us to take in the scene and understand what is going on in the painting. Caravaggio paints what he knows, and that is the streets’ of Rome. He doesn’t discriminate when it comes to his work; in fact, he often looks for the sketchier, low-life scenes of Roman street life, and brings it to the world through bold and intense technique.
This piece was one of Caravaggio’s earlier pieces, and arguably one of his first masterpieces. It was the piece with which he truly created his own style. A typical painting during this time, the 16th century, would be of familiar religious scenes and the figures would be ideally portrayed with soft skin and simple expressions, – renaissance style. Caravaggio wanted nothing to do with the renaissance style of painting, or the idea of renaissance as a whole. Caravaggio was responsible for bringing topics un-discussed to light through art, specifically cheating in this piece. He was a bit of a line stepper, a true rebel; it was almost as if he seeked trouble. Despite his seemingly bad attitude he managed to create some of the most important painting techniques in history, namely chiaroscuro – literally translating form Italian to ‘light-dark’, in painting suggests high and clear tonal contrasts. His bold and dramatic pieces changed the history of western art and allowed for famous painters after him, like Rembrandt, to exist in the way they did.
While it is not one of Caravaggio’s most technically advanced or heavily contextual pieces, this piece is an important one in history. It marks the begging of a huge change in western art, and played a huge role in history and continues to be talked about by numerous art historians today.
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