Art and Gambling

Posted By: Date: 05/20/2019 at 5:09 am Leave a comment

You might not immediately make the connection but in fact gambling and fine art have been linked for centuries, with many famous artists either having been gamblers themselves, or having depicted games of skill and chance in their artworks. Of course, you’ll probably have to hit the jackpot first in order to afford any of these famous works, so it might be more affordable for you to read about them before you go all in at the next big art auction…

“The Crucifixion” – Andrea Mantegna, 1457
One of the earliest depictions of gambling to be found in an artwork, “The Crucifixion” by Andrea Mantegna was painted as an altarpiece for the church in the Italian town of San Zeno Maggiore. A student of the Paduan painter Francesco Squarcione, Mantegna created the work as a predella – a painting at the base of an altar – and divided it into three panels, with the actual crucifixion in the centre. At first glance the crucifixion of Christ might have little to do with gambling, but look a little closer and you’ll see the legionnaires at play, throwing dice and casting lots for Jesus’ clothes.

“The Cardsharps” – Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, circa 1594
Dating back to the 16th century, Caravaggio’s “The Cardsharps” (yes, ‘cardsharp’, not ‘cardshark’ – common mistake) is a perfect Baroque interpretation of gambling on canvas, with two boys playing cards, while one (doubtless the cardsharp of the title) hides extra cards behind his back. An older man, presumably the cardsharp’s accomplice, leans over the other boy, ready to pass on any information needed for the two of them to con their way through the game. The lesson here? Always stay alert at the gaming tables people!

“The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs” – Georges de La Tour, 1626 – 1629
Cheating seems to be a common theme in gambling artworks, as evidenced by De La Tour’s “The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs”, painted between 1626 and 1629. In this piece, a sly man is using a moment of distraction between two women to covertly take out two aces from behind his belt, most likely to cheat his way through the game at hand. De La Tour recreated this painting later in 1635 with “The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds”, a painting similar to the first, albeit with a few subtle differences.

“Soldiers Gambling with Dice” – Pieter Jansz Quast, 1643
While many artworks portray gambling in a negative light, with participants either cheating or quarrelling, there are some that reflect the pastime in a completely neutral way. One such example is the painting “Soldiers Gambling with Dice”, by the Dutch Baroque artist Pieter Jansz Quast. In this depiction, soldiers are seen gambling peacefully on a drum, enjoying their pursuit, with no signs of suspicious activity or violence on the horizon. Proof that responsible gambling is a thing – and has been since at least the 17th century!

Feeling inspired? Then get out your easel or log onto your online casino and start creating your own winning art today!

Happy Spinning 🙂

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