Pictures of mysterious characters dressed in exotic clothing against a background of dangerously steep mountains and distant castles were very popular in seventeenth-century Flanders. The idea of the romantic wanderer caught the imagination, and inspired attractive narrative paintings that were open to interpretation.
Here, a group of nomads have stopped to rest on a bleak mountainside; one of them reads the palm of a passing peasant. We are left wondering if the little boy in the purple jacket is with the peasant or the fortune teller, and what he’s doing. A second man already disappears over the brow of the pathway, perhaps keen to avoid such interruption to his journey.
The painting is probably an early work by the highly successful genre painter David Teniers the Younger. It was later used as a design for a tapestry by J. van Bortch, in which the figures are seen in reverse.
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