Ladies’ writing table, made by Martin Carlin, cabinet-maker, ca. 1772, in Paris; with Sevres porcelain plaque signed “Dodin 1771” which reproduces an engraving by Rene Gaillard La Diseuse de Bonne Aventure Russienne, which itself reproduced a painting by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince (1734-1781), now lost. At the Gulbenkian, Lisbon.
The fashion for the genre of “fortune teller” — perhaps initiated by Caravaggio — has produced — over its 200 years or so — a great number of works with the theme; this is a late-bloom which, for originality, sought to revive the stale theme with exotic elements, in this case not Russian but Polish (Lithuanian?) setting. The ladies are all dressed in European fashion, but, to sit (or, rather, stand) for the painting, the gentleman of the house decided to pose a la polonaise: complete with makowka hair-style, saber, kontusz and szarawary, and, most striking of all, that other Sarmatian cultural weapon, the mace. It’s hard to imagine a more useless weapon than a footman’s mace in late 18th century Poland, but what sacrifices must one not bear in order to honor his ancestry? The mace it is, then.