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

Boy Bitten by a Lizard

c. 1594
Oil on canvas, 66 x 49,5 cm
National Gallery, London

This picture is wrongly said by Mancini not to be one of Caravaggio's earliest pictures, and since he also states that the picture was sold for less than Caravaggio expected, it must have been painted as a speculative venture.

One of the most effeminate of his boy models, with a rose in his hair, starts back in pain as his right-hand middle finger, which he has put into a cluster of fruit, is bitten by a lizard. The rose behind the ear, the cherries, the third finger and the lizard probably have sexual significance - the boy becomes aware, with a shock, of the pains of physical love. What was novel was not the theme so much as its dramatic treatment, evident in the boy's foreshortened right shoulder, the contrasting gestures of his hands and the leftward sloping light. What lingers most in the memory is found in the foreground: the gleaming glass carafe containing a single overblown rose in water, together with its reflections.

Two almost identical examples of this composition exist (the other in the Longhini Collection, Florence). Their equally high quality suggests that Caravaggio himself painted them both.