It is possible that the present work depicts an incident from Thomas Moore's (1779-1852) Lalla Rookh, from the first tale entitled The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan. At this point, the beautiful Zelica, half demented by the loss of Azim, her lover, supposed dead, is lured into the haram of Mokanna, a replusive impostor who poses as a prophet, on the promise of admission to Paradise. Later, Azim, returning from the wars, finds Zelica wedded to Mokanna, and joins the army of the Caliph, on its way to punish the blasphemy of Mokanna. The latter is defeated, throws himself into a vat of corrosive poison, and dies. Zelica, seeking death, puts on his veil, and being mistaken for the prophet, is killed by Azim and dies in his arms. Maclise painted another work entitled, Mokanna revealing his features to Zuleika which he exhibited at the British Institution in 1833 but it appears to be a different work to the present example which clearly depicts an incident earlier in the story when she first encounters the prophet.
Daniel Maclise did not date The Fortune Teller but stylistically it appears to be one of his earliest works before he developed the bolder and more classical style for which he is better known. It can possibly be dated to around 1835 when he changed his signature from 'D. MacClise' to 'Maclise'. The features of Zelica and the lighting on her face is similar to that in other works around this date such as The Meeting of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn at Hampton Court (British Institution, 1836, no. 61) and Francis the First and Diane of Poitiers (British Institution, 1834, no. 443).
Thomas Moore was born in Dublin, the son of a grocer and became the national lyricist of Ireland by the publication of his Irish Melodies (1807-35). It was with his epic tales of Lalla Rookh, published in 1817 that he acquired a European reputation. Maclise painted other works inspired by the works of Moore including, The Origin of the Harp from his Irish Melodies illustrating the quote, 'Still her bosom rose fair - Still her cheek smiled the same, etc.', exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842, no. 428 and later Her smile when beauty granted, I hung with gaze enchanted, and Come rest in this bosom my own stricken deer, both of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1847, nos. 146 and 159.