(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)
Basket of Fruitc. 1597
Oil on canvas, 31 x 47 cm
Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan
Caravaggio is reported to have claimed that he put as much effort into painting a vase of flowers as he did into painting human figures. Such an attitude not only calls into question the hierarchy of pictorial genres that had prevailed since Alberti, but also marks the beginning of a tradition of European still-life painting that was to develop continuously from then on.
Whereas, until then, there had only been occasional cases of "pure" object paintings one by Carpaccio, a hunting trophy by Barbari and a message (1506) about one Antonio da Crevalcore, who is said to have made a "painting full of fruit" - from Caravaggio onwards, still-life was to be the most popular of genres. It is a response to the increase of private art collections and their demand for profane and virtuoso painting.
Caravaggio compensated for the apparent loss of contentual gravity in an astonishing way. The basket is at eye level and juts out over the edge of the table into the real space of the spectator.
In this formal exaggeration and with a viewpoint liberated from all attributive connotations, the otherwise trivial object takes on an unheard of monumentality that renders the secret lives of objects, the play of light on their surfaces and the variety of their textures worthy of such painting.