Boy with a Basket of Fruit
Michelangelo Merisi, “Caravaggio” (1571, Caravaggio (Bg)-1610, Port’Ercole - Gr)
Oil on canvas
h: 70 cm; w: 67 cm
Scipione Borghese Collection
The canvas is one of the first works Merisi undertook in Rome, having joined the workshops of Giuseppe Cesari, known as the Cavalièr d'Arpino, shortly after his arrival in the city in 1592. He stayed there for several months, exercising his abilities as a painter of still-life. In this painting, the artist represents different qualities of fruit, some of which are very ripe, with extreme realism. The extraordinary realism of the boy showing us the basket, illuminated by a source of light behind his back, can be attributed to the young painter's Lombard influence, his sensitivity so similar to that of the Flemish school.
The Borghese painting should be compared to the famous Basket from the same period in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, belonging to Cardinal Federico Borromeo and executed in Rome on recovered canvas in the mid-1590s. At the time, Caravaggio, unknown and in financial straits, used second-hand canvases to save money.
This work was one of the pieces that Scipione Borghese had confiscated from the Cavalièr d'Arpino in 1607. The famous painter personally owned a valuable collection of paintings, which ended up in the hands of the greedy cardinal. They became the core of the splendid Borghese Collection.
The technical ability that Caravaggio shows in the work exemplifies the artist's idea that the same method is required to paint people and objects.
The subject has been interpreted in different ways. Fruit is used as an allegory for abundance, but on account of its natural tendency to perish, is also a metaphor for the transience of life.
This painting dates from the first Caravaggio period in Rome. The canvas is painted with a strong realism that gives the still-life the same importance as the figure. The Lombard, Venetian, and Flemish influences do not prevent the painting from representing a new artistic expression.
Giuseppe Cesari detto Cavalier d’Arpino
The Borghese Collection was acquired by the Italian State in 1902.
Della Pergola, P., Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Rome, 1959, n.111, pp. 75–76.
Laureati, L., Brown, B. L., in Caravaggio e il genio di Roma, 1592–1623, exhibition catalogue, (Rome), Milan, 2001, pp. 70–71, cat.17.
Strinati, C., Vodret, R., Caravaggio e I suoi primi seguaci, Tokyo, 2001.
Papi, G., La natura morta Italiana. Da Caravaggio al Settecento, exhibition catalogue, Rome, 2003, pp. 132–133.
Bull D., Dibbits, T., Rembrandt Caravaggio, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam, 2006, p. 118, p. 197, cat.27.
Copyright image: Archivio fotografico Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE e Polo Museale della Città di Roma.
Sofia Barchiesi "Boy with a Basket of Fruit" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=object;BAR;it;Mus11;9;en
Prepared by: Sofia BarchiesiSofia Barchiesi
TITLE: Author and Researcher
Sofia Barchiesi, a graduate and specialist in Art History and recipient of a scholarship from the School of Mediaeval and Modern Art History at Lumsa University, has been working with the Superintendency for Historical Artistic Heritage and the Museums of Rome since the late 1980s. She was responsible for cataloguing the art of the region and museums of Rome, studying the period of the Counter-Reformation particularly closely. She works with journals and writes essays, alternating her research and teaching work.
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: IT1 12