(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)

Boy with a Basket of Fruit

c. 1593
Oil on canvas, 70 x 67 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

One of the sure signs of an early painting by Caravaggio is the patent influence of northern Italian art. The boy with a fruit basket has analogies with a Fruit Seller by the Lombard painter Vincenzo Campi, painted about 1580, but Caravaggio is not content to follow the traditions on which he draws. Instead of the young women favoured by his predecessors, he has chosen a teenage boy; and he has brought his subject almost to the front of the picture plane, so that the boy seems to offer himself as well as the fruit to the spectator's gaze. There is a sign of uncertainty in the awkward way that the boy's long thick neck rises out of his shoulder blades, yet there is compensation in the poetic device which places his weary eyes partially in the shade.

Once again Caravaggio has used the diagonal 'cellar' light which was to become a hallmark of his style. Against a near-blank ground, attention is focused on the right side of the boy's upper body, the classical drapery on his right arm and the marvellously realized fruit, displaying succulent peaches and bunches of grapes.