Boy with a Basket of Fruit dates from the beginning of the artistic career of Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), who, having come to Rome from Milan in the last decade of the Cinquecento, worked briefly for the Cavalier d’Arpino and his brother, Bernardino Cesari. The painting dates to his early period as a painter of still lifes; datable to 1593/95.
The painting dates to the period when Caravaggio, who arrived in Rome from Milan, was making his career in the Roman art world. The model was his friend, the Sicilian painter Mario Minniti, at about 16 years old. Primarily, the artwork belonged to Giuseppe Cesari, the Cavaliere d’Arpino, seized by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1607.
Many historians refer other works to the same period, also featuring Minniti as a model, such as The Fortune Teller and the Cardsharps from 1594. In addition, the Cardsharps brought Caravaggio to the attention of his first significant patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte.
Boy with a Basket of Fruit painting is an oil on canvas with 70 х 67 cm size. There is no coincidence that this canvas belonged to the Cavalier d’Arpino, from whom it was confiscated, together with other artworks in 1607. It was in the Cavalier’s studio, that, according to Giovanni Pietro Bellori, Caravaggio learnt “to paint flowers and fruit so well imitated that everybody came to learn from him how to create the beauty that is so popular today”.
The painting was created during his early period as a painter of still lifes. It may be related to his famous Basket of Fruit in Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan, executed in 1596. In both paintings, the fruit and leaves are illustrated with the same irregularities and imperfections that are found in the real life and nature.
The painting expresses sensuality, which marks similar canvases of the master of the early period: a handsome street boy took a beautiful pose, tilting his head slightly, lowering his shirt from one shoulder and gently pressing his basket to himself. The artist skillfully depicted not only the velvety color of peaches and glossy apples, but also dark spots on the fruits and dried leaves. The brightest fruits are apples, and the artist depicted the rest of the fruits in neutral colors to make everything look harmonious. After all, if Caravaggio took a lot of bright colors, viewer’s attention would be spent only on fruit, then one would have forgotten about the main character.
The artist paid great attention to colors and light. In this painting, it is immediately obvious that the light falls on the left side. After all, the brightest spots are the young man’s left cheek and shoulder. On the right side of the painting, on the contrary, the shadows fall. The background of the artwork is the most common gray wall. The artist specially depicted a guy in a room, not in nature. So that the fruit does not merge with the natural environment. Professor Jules Janick of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University, Indiana, has analysed fruits 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.