Boy with a Basket of Fruit  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, c.1593, is a painting by Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, currently in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.

The painting dates from the time when Caravaggio, newly arrived in Rome from his native Milan, was making his way in the competitive Roman art world. The model is his friend and companion, the Sicilian painter Mario Minniti, at about 16 years old. The work was in the collection of Giuseppe Cesari, the Cavaliere d'Arpino, seized by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1607, and may therefore date to the period when Caravaggio worked for d'Arpino "painting flowers and fruits" in his workshop; but it may date from a slightly later period when Caravaggio and Minniti had left Cavalier d'Arpino's workshop (January 1594) to make their own way selling paintings through the dealer Costantino. Certainly it cannot predate 1593, the year Minniti arrived in Rome. It is believed to predate more complex works from the same period (also featuring Minniti as a model) such as The Fortune Teller and the Cardsharps (both 1594), the latter of which brought Caravaggio to the attention of his first important patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte.

At one level the painting is a genre piece designed to demonstrate the artist's ability to depict everything from the skin of the boy to the skin of a peach, from the folds of the robe to the weave of the basket. Also note the shadow along the back wall; Caravaggio is probably painting the shadow of him and his canvas. The fruit is especially exquisite, and Professor Jules Janick of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University, Indiana, has analysed them from a horticulturalist's perspective:

The basket ... contains a great many fruits, all in nearly perfect condition and including a bi-colored peach with a bright red blush; four clusters of grapes — two black, one red, and one "white;" a ripe pomegranate split open, disgorging its red seeds; four figs, two of them dead-ripe, black ones, both split and two light-colored; two medlars; three apples—two red, one blushed and the other striped, and one yellow with a russet basin and a scar; two branches with small pears, one of them with five yellow ones with a bright red cheek and the other, half-hidden, with small yellow, blushed fruits. There are also leaves showing various disorders: a prominent virescent grape leaf with fungal spots and another with a white insect egg mass resembling that of the oblique banded leaf roller (Choristoneura rosaceana), and peach leaves with various spots.

The analysis indicates that Caravaggio is being realistic, in capturing only what was in the fruit basket; he idealizes neither their ripeness nor their arrangement—yet almost miraculously, we are still drawn in to look at it; for the viewer it is very much a beautiful subject.

At another level commentators have remarked the sensuality of Minniti as portrayed by Caravaggio, with his bared shoulder, slender throat, and languid gaze - so much so that more than one connoisseur over the centuries has taken Minniti for a girl. But if there is a hint of sensuous longing in Caravaggio's portrayal of Minniti, there is none in Minniti himself: he gives every appearance of a boy posing for a friend with a heavy basket, a little tired, but obliging. This is the first evidence of the psychological, as well as physical, realism that would mark Caravaggio's mature works.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Boy with a Basket of Fruit" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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