The Gypsy Fortune Teller

With thanks to Dr. Francis DeStefano for pointing out this one.

   Anna Jameson, The Victorian writer on art and much else, refers to this legend in her book Legends of the Madonna. (London, 1864)
 She says this: 

Before quitting the subject of the Riposo, I must mention a very pretty and poetical legend which I have met with in one picture only : a description of it may, however, lead to the recognition of others.

There was in the collection of Lord Shrewsbury, at Alton Towers, a Riposo attributed to Giorgione, remarkable equally for the beauty and the singularity of the treatment. The Holy Family are seated in the midst of a wild but rich landscape, quite in the Venetian style ; Joseph is asleep; the two children are playing with a lamb. The Virgin, seated, holds a book, and turns round, with an expression of surprise and alarm, to a female figure who stands on the right. This woman has a dark physiognomy, ample flowing drapery of red and white, a white turban twisted round her head, and stretches out her hand with the air of a sibyl. The explanation of this striking group I found in an old ballad-legend.  . . . .The religious ballad I allude to must have been popular in the sixteenth century; it exists in the Provenšal dialect, in German, and in Italian ; and, like the wild ballad of St. John Chrysostom, it probably came in some form or other from the East. The theme is, in all these versions, substantially the same. The Virgin, on her arrival in Egypt, is encountered by a gypsy (Zingara or Zingarella) who crosses the Child's palm after the gypsy manner, and  foretells all the wonderful and terrible things which, as the Redeemer of mankind, he was destined to perform and endure on earth.
 The Supposed Giorgione may have disappeared, and as U.K. visitors to this site will know, Alton Towers is now a very different place! However, a version of the story was drawn by the artist, collector of Italian ballads, and chum of Ruskin Francesca Alexander; it was included in her portfolio of Tuscan Songs once owned by Ruskin. Pages from this, including the one with the gypsy and the relevant ballad, are now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.   

An interesting sideline on this is that the word 'Gypsy' is of course derived from 'Egyptian', and tradition has it that Gypsy people are therefore cursed for their unwillingness to provide shelter for the Holy Family on their flight. As with other persecuted minorities, this and other legends grew and grew - they were descended from Cain, they made the nails that crucified Christ, and so on. 
  Just a thought then - could the ballad referred to by Anna Jameson and Francesca Alexander have a Romany origin, in an attempt to set the matter straight? Of course, the 'gypsy' appellation was not used in Italy, but it's not impossible that these unpleasant associations were nevertheless attached to that particular group of people. 

You can find more on it here:

And Dr DeStefano's thoughts on it here:

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