(b. 1575, Roma, d. 1625, Roma)
Boy with a Flask and Cabbages1620-25
Oil on canvas, 99 x 73 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Illuminated from the upper left, a smiling boy is seen in three-quarter profile. He turns to his left where something or someone has caught his eye. He holds a flask above his shoulder and is surrounded by large cabbages, which occupy about a third of the painting. Based on a comparison with Still-life with Fruit, Vegetables and Animals, which is inscribed 'T.SALINI ANO F.1621', this enigmatic painting has also been attributed to Tommaso Salini, called Mao. The stylistic comparison centred around the cabbages which appear in both paintings. It was further suggested that the figure might have been executed by another artist, possibly Michelangelo Cerquozzi. In fact, the boy in the Madrid picture has little in common with the figures in Mao's two altarpieces in the Roman churches of Sant'Agnese and Sant'Agostino. Although Cerquozzi painted figures in his own still-lifes, any collaboration by him in this painting can be ruled out.
Ironically, even though the most dubious element in the composition is the figure, it has been used to attribute a large group of paintings to Mao. These attributions seem even more inexplicable in the light of Tommaso Salini's will of 1625 and the inventory of his paintings. Besides religious and mythological subjects, and a few portraits (about 60 in all), there were 115 paintings of flowers and fruit either finished or left `imperfect'. Within this list of works, most of them bearing no author's name but nearly all of them by Mao, no compositions comparable to the Madrid picture exist. Unusually for Mao, the light and composition seem Caravaggesque. There is nothing about the painting which can be traced in early documents or related to the few securely attributed works by Mao, who, it should be noted, was a bitter enemy of Caravaggio.