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Playing Cards

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Theodoor Rombouts
Antwerp 1597 – Antwerp 1637
oil on canvas
152 x 206 cm
Inventory Number 358

Antwerp-born painter Theodoor Rombouts was a prominent Flemish Caravaggist. Like his Italian example, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, he liked to use strong chiaroscuro effects and to depict his models in half body. Rombouts’s oeuvre consists mostly of monumental paintings representing worldly subject matter and highly expressive and realistically rendered figures. In this particular painting, two soldiers are playing cards for money. Lying on the left side of the table are some cards and coins; on the right, a fruit bowl, a piece of bread, a decanter and a wineglass. The old man on the left is watching the game attentively. To the right, an old woman is speaking to a third soldier. Perhaps she is warning him about the dangers of gaming: gamblers waste not only their money and possessions, but also precious time they might otherwise spend studying or working or going to church. Playing cards for money is also associated with deception and cheating, cursing and brawling. Hence the players symbolise idleness, avarice and quarrelsomeness.

Theatre costumes

Rombouts represented his soldiers as ordinary folk, like Caravaggio had before him. Their attire is inspired by theatre costumes of the day.

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