The Cardsharps

Oil on Canvas
Circa 1595

Thanks to The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust, The Cardsharps was on loan to the Museum from a private collection from 2013 until June 2021. 

Caravaggio is a notorious figure in the history of western art. He is known for his dramatic painting style that uses extreme contrasts of light and dark, or chiaroscuro, to add depth and interest to his compositions.

The artist himself led a life of drama. Fleeing Rome following an accusation of murder, Caravaggio sought refuge with the Order of St John on Malta. While a member of the Order, Caravaggio painted two notable altarpieces, The Beheading of St John the Baptist and St Jerome Writing. Both works remain on display in St John’s Co-Cathedral, the building for which they were painted.

The Cardsharps was painted while Caravaggio was still in Rome. It was commissioned by a wealthy patron and art collector, Cardinal Francesco del Monte. The painting shows the young dupe, on the left, being swindled by two Cardsharps, who are colluding with one another. Alluding to the story of the Prodigal Son, the moral message is communicated through the depiction of the dangers of gambling.


The Museum of the Order of St John would like to thank all those who have supported and continue to support its work. In particular, the Museum would like to thank the following for their generosity: