Exploring Artinside Museum Masterpieces #4

A Journey into Georges de La Tour's "The Fortune-Teller,” in Augmented Reality, Guided by Artebinaria's Art Director

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Let’s continue our journey to discover the augmented reality masterpieces of Artinside Museum. After exploring Vermeer’s masterpiece, “The Milkmaid“, in the room dedicated to work activities, immersing ourselves in Toulouse-Lautrec’s masterpiece “At the Moulin Rouge”, and delving into Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”, today, we will continue our cultural adventure by entering the second Pavilion dedicated to Portraits and proceeding to the second room. The second room in the Portrait Pavilion showcases a selection of five portraits painted between the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

The Portrait Pavilion

The Portrait Pavilion offers an exceptional collection of 25 masterpieces spanning from the 15th to the 20th century, including 10 self-portraits by renowned artists. Access to this Pavilion requires a contribution that grants permanent access to its contents. Artinside Museum is an app that allows in-app purchases.

Entering the Second Room

Let’s enter augmented reality and select the second panel dedicated to Portraits from the 16th and 17th centuries. As we do so, let’s turn in the opposite direction of the panels, and right behind us, we will find the artwork we are about to explore together: “The Fortune Teller” by the French painter Georges de La Tour.

If you need further instructions on how to access Artinside Museum, please refer to the article available at the following link. If you’re interested in learning more about the methodology used for exploring the artwork in AR, please refer to this article.

The Painting, Lunéville, and the Thirty Years' War

We are in front of one of the early works of the French artist Georges de La Tour, a painter who lived between 1593 and 1652 in France, specifically in a small town near Nancy called Lunéville, situated in the north-eastern area of France.

This city is mentioned within the painting itself, and it might be the first time you’ve heard of it. I invite you to approach with your device to the top right corner and try to decipher the inscription before you. If reading it proves to be difficult, I’d be happy to assist you. The calligraphic inscription reads: G. de La Tour Fecit Luneuilla Lothar: (Lunéville Lorraine). From this inscription, we can deduce that the artist Georges de La Tour, hailing from Lunéville, is the author of the work in front of us.

Regarding the dating, it is not specified in the inscription, but scholars believe that the work dates back to the 1630s, during the period when the Thirty Years’ War was raging. This war took place from 1618 to 1648 and spread across all of Europe. Initially a war between Protestant and Catholic states, it eventually lost its religious connotations and became a struggle for European supremacy between the French and Habsburg factions. This war brought with it pestilence and also affected Lunéville, which was besieged and plundered multiple times.

Some believe that the painter Georges de La Tour may have profited from this situation by speculating in grain. However, we will delve further into the artist’s life later on. For now, let’s continue analyzing and gradually uncovering all the details of this extraordinary work using augmented reality.

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Exploring the Intricate Visual Mosaic

After carefully examining the inscription in the upper right corner, let’s now turn our attention to contemplate this masterpiece in its entirety. To do so, let’s step back from the canvas using our device to appreciate it from a more distant perspective.

At first glance, we notice a dense crowd of people in the painting, and it’s not easy to pinpoint a specific focal point. Our gaze may wander over the top of the artwork where faces are depicted, or it may roam from left to right, observing how the gazes of the portrayed individuals engage in a tight and seemingly silent dialogue. The challenge now is: where should we direct our gaze? Should it be on the face of the young man at the center of the painting? Or perhaps on the weathered figure of the elderly woman depicted on the extreme right? Maybe we are drawn by curiosity to discover where the young lady depicted on the far left is looking, with her eyes cast downward as if meticulously inspecting something hidden. Let’s begin, then, from this point to gradually unveil the hidden narrative behind this extraordinary work of art.

Our gaze, therefore, flows from the enchanting headdress, past the pearl earring prominently displayed on the inclined face of the young lady, continues along the sleeve of the finely embroidered white shirt adorned with golden threads, and comes to a halt at the hand that is performing a particular action: the woman is delicately extracting something precious from the young man’s pocket.

But now, let’s immediately shift our focus upward, where the young man seems oblivious to what is happening around him. In fact, he appears completely absorbed by the elderly woman with the white headdress.

All of this raises a series of intriguing questions: what is actually transpiring in this scene? Who is the elderly woman? And who are the other characters involved in this mysterious and engaging tableau?

The Deception

The young man is unaware that he is the victim of a plot: while the girl on the left secretly takes the money purse from his pocket, the young lady with black hair by his side has her hand extended to grab it and conceal it. Meanwhile, the beautiful maiden with the scarf tied under her chin is busy cutting the gold medal from the chain hanging on her shoulder. But what distracts the young man’s attention? Dressed sumptuously, with his abundant light brown hair, the young man is completely captivated by the elderly lady, who is about to predict his future by reading his hand.

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The Ritual of Future Prediction

Now, approach the painting in augmented reality to closely examine the hands of the young man and the elderly lady. It’s interesting to note the black-stained nails on the young man’s left hand, and at the same time, the coin held between the woman’s thumb and index finger.

This coin holds a dual meaning: it represents both the reward for the work done and the key element of the future prediction ritual. According to the rituals, the gold coin must be crossed with the young man’s white hand to obtain an accurate future reading.

According to an account published in 1613, the ritual occurred as follows: “All crosses are good,” it explains, “but silver and gold crosses are the best, and crossing the palm of the hand with a copper coin, you must know, reduces good fortune,  at least, the good fortune I foretell”.

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The "Gypsies" in the Painting

The women depicted in the painting belong to itinerant communities often considered nomadic and deceitful, not conforming to the laws and values of Western societies and often facing marginalization. They traveled with their caravans, crossing different regions and temporarily settling before moving on to other destinations.

The appearance of these women, with their dark skin, black hair, and oriental-inspired clothing, identifies them as “Gypsies”. Their costumes are rendered with great attention and care, but they appear to be products of the painter’s imagination.

Clothing

The elaborate headdress worn by the elderly woman has a shape reminiscent of the tradition of Lorraine, but the brocade silk fabric with a golden border is clearly of foreign origin. The fabric covering her shoulder is heavy and sumptuous, divided into different areas with bright colors and ornamental motifs. For example, the hares surrounding the Tree of Life recall Persian, Sasanian, or Balkan examples from around the 5th century. The weave of the fabric is in the opposite direction to that of the shawl itself. Scholars believe that the elderly Gypsy woman has been depicted in a composite manner, as a combination of elements, creating an artificial image akin to a scarecrow in a garden. Georges de La Tour was interested in creating an illusion of reality rather than simply reproducing what he saw.

Furthermore, in the scarf worn by the second girl from the left, painted in yellow amidst the embroidery, there was initially an unusual inscription, namely, “Merde”,  which was later removed during restoration.

The Story of the Painting

The history of the discovery of this painting is shrouded in mystery. It is said that in 1942, a French prisoner of war, under unclear circumstances, while flipping through a monograph on La Tour’s works, recognized the painting he had previously seen in his uncle’s castle.

Upon his return from the war, the prisoner had the painting examined, which was still in the same place where he had seen it, by a knowledgeable Dominican abbot in art. The abbot confirmed the remarkable value of the artwork and informed the Louvre, which expressed a potential interest in acquiring it.

However, in the end, in 1949, the painting was purchased for the sum of 7.5 million francs by the art dealer Georges Wildenstein, surpassing the Louvre’s offer. Wildenstein held the painting for the next ten years before selling it to the Metropolitan Museum, where it was first exhibited in 1960.

A Warning Message

During La Tour’s time, it was widely recognized that gypsies could possess healing abilities, magical powers, or even be regarded as sorceresses. In fact, the region of Lorraine served as a prominent center for sorcery and magical practices around the 1600s.

In the 17th century, watch thieves were subjected to cruel punishments, including the cutting off of both ears, torture with hot tongs, branding, and even hanging or dismemberment.

In this work, the artist from Lorraine seems to want to warn the viewer about the dangers of a dark and malevolent world, a world dominated by greed, selfishness, and treachery.

The World of Georges de La Tour

Georges de La Tour was a French painter from the first half of the 17th century strongly influenced by naturalism and Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro. Often, his works are set in interiors illuminated by a simple candle, through which he focuses attention only on the essential elements and creates those distinctive nocturnal atmospheres.

Georges de La Tour was born in 1593 in Vic-sur-Seille, a major market town in the independent duchy of Lorraine, now part of northeastern France. He was the son of a baker and gained his noble title through marriage. There are no documents or information about La Tour’s early career, making any account of his training speculative.

In 1617, La Tour married Diane Le Nerf, the heiress of a wealthy silversmith family from Lunéville. After the deaths of his father and uncle in 1620, La Tour settled permanently in his wife’s hometown, where he opened a workshop and took on apprentices, documented in 1626, 1636, 1643, and 1648.

Starting in the 1620s and throughout his career, La Tour enjoyed substantial court patronage in Lorraine and royal patronage in Paris. He died on January 30, 1652, just two weeks after his wife’s death; both deaths were likely caused by an epidemic.

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Exploration of the Artwork in Augmented Reality: Reflections and Comments

Now that we have completed the analysis of the artwork and delved into the artist’s background, we invite you to explore the artwork in the second room of the Portrait Pavilion using the Artinside Museum application. During this experience, we encourage you to view the artwork from various perspectives, keeping in mind what you have learned.

As you immerse yourself in the augmented reality artwork, consider the following questions:

– What emotions or sensations does this representation evoke in you?

– Which details or elements of the artwork particularly capture your attention, and why?

Have you had the opportunity to admire other works by Georges de La Tour in the past?

Lastly, if you had the chance to ask artist Georges de La Tour a question about this artwork, what would your ideal question be?

We invite you to share your reflections and comments by writing to info@artebinaria.it. Your thoughts will be collected and may be included in future articles. Thank you for your participation.

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CREDITS FOR THE ARTWORK

The credits for the artwork are mentioned in the “Artinside Museum” app, and are also provided below:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1960

enjoy 'the artebinaria gazette'!

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