18th Century Venice: The Fortune-teller.

Zompini shows the Astrolaga (fortune-teller) busy at her pitch on the Piazzetta. This is one of the few engravings in this series where we can say with certainty exactly where we are. The corner of the Doge’s Palace is clearly visible, as is the pillar bearing the Lion of St Mark. The rhyme sums up the fortune-teller’s spiel: “Son qua chi vol la strolega mi crio; / Per veder de becar qualche traireto, / Massime ale putazze da mario.” My translation: “Come hither, here the future see, / Trust but a penny now to me, / If you’re a maid who’d married be.” The fortune-teller seems to have attracted just the sort of lovestruck youngster she was hoping for. Venetians would be aware of various ironies implicit in the image, notably the fortune-teller openly touting in the shadow of the Basilica itself, despite avowed patriarchal disapproval of this kind of thing. Both church and state seem to have taken a tolerant view of this street level divination, perhaps because fortune-telling was much in vogue with the upper crust, as witnessed by several paintings on the theme by Pietro Longhi. Modern Venetians are always keen to point out that the capitol of the corner pillar supporting the Doge’s Palace – out of sight behind the fortune-teller’s head – bears carvings of the Creation incorporating the planets and zodiac. I’ve always felt that the colour scheme in this image is of passing interest, as related to Christian liturgy. The young girl, a would be bride, is in yellow, symbolising purity. The fortune-teller wears green, symbolic of hope and liberation.

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