In The Fortune Teller Pietro Paolini demonstrates many of the lessons he absorbed from studying Caravaggio, including the strong contrasts of light and shadow, focus on realism and great attention to detail. In this painting, the foibles of human folly are displayed for our enjoyment, the hand gestures helping us to interpret its meaning.
The two central crossed palms are open to the viewer. One is the lined hand of the fortune teller, who has been seated for the purpose on a studded leather chair. The other hand belongs to a young girl, elegantly dressed with feathers and pearls in her hair, the long ringlets falling over her shoulders denoting her unmarried state. She gazes enquiringly into the eyes of the gypsy, whose expression is partially masked by the deep shadows falling across her face. She, too, has pearls in her hair, and a string of bright coral beads around her neck. The girl points with her other hand to the young man behind her, who stands with a rather large hand on his hip, elegantly dressed in shades of brown. Gazing in anticipation, he holds the forefinger of his right hand between his lips, wondering if his ruse will work.
This is a favourite theme used by many artists – a fortune teller tries to persuade a gullible young woman to accept the amorous advances of her suitor.