Cardsharping with steganography is a popular motive on classical paintings. Here are five examples.

Steganography is a powerful tool with many interesting applications. This is shown in my latest book Versteckte Botschaften. One of the chapters in this work is dedicated to the art of steganographic cardsharping.

It goes without saying that hidden messages (this is what steganography is about) can be very helpful for cheating in card games. For instance, two card players can use secret signals to exchange information about their hands in order to cheat a third player. In addition, a person not taking part in the game can send steganographic signals to one of the players, thus informing him about his opponents’ cards.

In my book many tricks of this kind are described. For more information about cheating (not only with steganograpic means) I can recommend the book How to Cheat at Everything by Simon Lovell.



Blog reader Thomas Ernst, who recently solved the cipher of Ferdinand III., pointed out to me that cardsharping with steganography is a popular motive on classical paintings. This can be seen, for instance, on the following painting titled Cardsharps created by Caravaggio around 1594:


As can be seen, the man in the background signals information about the cards of the player on the left to the other player using a finger code. In addition, the cardsharp on the right has hidden cards on his back – an example of non-steganographic cheating.


De la Tour

The following painting (The Card Player with the Ace of Diamonds by Georges de la Tour, ~1620) shows a similar scene:


Again, the card sharp has hidden cards on his back. His victim is the young man on the right, while the woman in the middle is his accomplice. Apparently, the servant in the background knows the cards of the victim. The way she serves the wine glass is probably a steganographic message for the card sharps (the details of this code are left to speculation).



Here’s another painting with a similar motive (The Cardsharps by Wouter Crabeth, 16th century):


The victim is the young man in the black shirt. The steganographic signal given by the woman next to him is quite obvious. Maybe the servant in the background gives a signal, too.



It is easy to see what happens on the following painting (Cardsharps by Valentin Boulogne, 1620):



De Hooch

On the following pianting (Card Players in a Sumptuous Interior by Pieter de Hooch, ~1665) the signaling is less obvious:


The victim is the lady in the red skirt. The long-haired man next to her holds his glass such that the cards are mirrored in it. This signal is meant for the player sitting in the background.

The list of paintings shown here is far from complete. If you know more of this kind, please leave a comment.

Further reading: y visit at the Cheltenham Listening Stones


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Kommentare (4)

  1. #1 Thomas Ernst
    13. Oktober 2017

    Am assuming they were playing Strip Poker in Carbeth’s tableau. – The eyes of the woman in the de la Tour are just soooo realistic! – Nice finds!

  2. #2 Aginor
    13. Oktober 2017

    @Thomas Ernst: Rather unlikely. Strip Poker is only around 100 years old, the painting is centuries older than that.
    The much more likely variant is that the scene shows an etablissement of rather questionable reputation and both of the ladies were probably paid for by the cheating player.

    So the Crabeth painting would also show another common and effective element of cheating tactics: distraction to help hiding signals (in this case by partial nudity).

  3. #3 Achim
    13. Oktober 2017

    Aelbert Jansz van der Schoor: Die Falschspieler , 1656

    Gruß Achim

  4. #4 Thomas Ernst
    17. Oktober 2017

    @ Aginor: am indeed : quite : very much so : completely : abundantly so : aware that “Strip Poker” is of much later vintage. I commented in jest, so to speak. – Otherwise, your observations are quite – correct.