"I don't know who is the greater magician the woman that you paint, or you that paint her": this is how Gaspare Murtola underlined the painter's skill in representing the deceitful woman in the verses he devoted to Caravaggio's picture in 1603. In fact in both versions of the painting, in which the famous artist adopts a three-quarter framing in the Venetian manner, the gypsy girl, while pretending to read the young man's hand, is adroitly slipping off his ring. The Fortune Teller 1 in Rome, painted over the top of a picture of the Virgin with her hands joined, is considered by more recent criticism to be the first version of the subject, executed between 1593 and 1594, and displays a greater sense of movement than the more static one The Fortune Teller 2 in the Louvre, datable to between 1596 and 1597.
The woman's dress, with a turban and a cloak tied at the shoulder, is described in the catalogues of costumes of the period as typical of the gypsies, who were already being portrayed in Northern European art as examples of avarice and dishonesty.
At the end of the 16th century the streets of Rome were violent places, filled with soldiers and vagabonds, and the city had earned itself the reputation of a "swindler's paradise." The disquieting fascination of this world was often represented in drama and popular literature, but it was also described in treatises on the habits and tricks of rogues, beggars and peddlers. Gypsies had appeared in Italy at the beginning of the 15th century: at first treated as pilgrims, they had then begun to arouse fear and suspicion, but had retained the allure and magic of distant lands. As well as popular songs, their way of life had inspired the commedia dell'arte, and it is in relation to the theater that we should see the theme of the two oil paintings , the slyness of the deception contrasted with the ingenuousness of the young man.