This painting, by the Italian artist Pietro della Vecchia (c. 1602-1678), depicts a practitioner of chiromancy, a form of divination also known as cheiromancy, palmistry, or simply palm reading. The influential Malleus Maleficarum (published around 1487) described chiromancy as divination by one who “observes the lines of the hand, or of the paws of animals” and classified the practice as a type of divination that is “no more than a silent consideration of the disposition and movement of some thing, as of the stars, or the days, or the hours, and such things” (Malleus Maleficarum, Part I, Question 16). It was a grey area of magic, along with other divination methods such as horoscopes and astrology, which were often (but not always) condoned in medieval courts, whereas darker practices such as necromancy were more widely condemned. In Pietro della Vecchia’s painting, the chiromancer seemingly lived at a time or a place where his craft was accepted, for he displays little worry about his safety. Read more about the many forms of divination HERE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers. New York: Dover Publications, 1971.
- The Demonology of King James I, edition of Donald Tyson (Llewellyn Publications, 2011).