Boy with a Basket of Fruit
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According to researchers, Caravaggio's Boy with a Basket of Fruit, or Fruttaiolo, emerged from a productive period during which the painter was an apprentice in the studio of the Cavaliere d'Arpino, artist Giuseppe Cesari.

Records indicate that Caravaggio was also living with Cesari, and that he made still life paintings during this time, although the only solidly confirmed still life of his is from a different period. Cesari, spotting Caravaggio's talent, took these still lifes and promoted them as his own, but nowadays, people are much more interested in Caravaggio's name than Cesari's. Maybe that goes to show that it pays to do your own work. A little over a decade after Caravaggio painted the Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Pope Paul V arrested Cesari, confiscated the painting, and, by some simple twist of fate, allowed it to find its way into the collection of his nephew, Scipione Borghese, whose collection formed the foundation of the collection of the Borghese Gallery, who maintain the painting to this day.

As our grandmother tells it, upon arriving in the U.S., via Ellis Island, her father asked an elder in Yiddish, "Uncle, how do I go into business as a fruit vendor?" The man told him, "You buy some apples and a pushcart, and you're in business!" Our great-grandfather couldn't muster the same kind of open-mouthed, bare-shouldered sales technique as the boy in the painting, but he did alright. Contemporaries of Caravaggio thought this boy was rural in appearance: they called him a vilico, Latin for "farmer," based on his clothing.

Although there is little evidence beyond the work itself to support it, nearly every one of the dozens of writers who have published on this painting comment that it should mark a moment in the hidden history of male hustlers, because the subject's appearance almost lays the blueprint for a certain kind of attitude and appearance which would become popular centuries later. One author suggests that the late fashion designer Gianni Versace was directly influenced by this painting to present his models in a certain kind of way. This dude probably ain't selling fruit, and few people really ever thought he was. Then again, he could be, and there's no way to know. Caravaggio always knew how to walk a fine line between masculine and feminine, religious and irreligious, adult and minor, legal and illegal, sacred and profane.

While most artists paint to comfort the already-comfortable, Caravaggio still makes many people uncomfortable, and other people love that, and the controversy itself is the work that would make him most proud. The destruction of all boundaries, of sobriety, agreement, politeness, and reason itself, would have been the prerogative of the Roman deity Bacchus, who Caravaggio portrayed in his own image. In creating a clandestine, controversial subtext to his work, Caravaggio has captured the imaginations of many generations of people.



  1. Drummond, Kent. "The migration of art from museum to market: Consuming Caravaggio." Marketing Theory 6, no. 1 (2006): 85-105.
  2. Hibbard, Howard. Caravaggio. London: Routledge, 2018.
  3. Matthews, Pamela R., and David McWhirter. Aesthetic Subjects. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
  4. Posèq, Avigdor W. G. Caravaggio and the Antique. New York: Avon, 1998.
  5. Shultz, Ellen. The Age of Caravaggio. New York: The Met, 1985.
  6. Spike, John T. Caravaggio: Catalogue of Paintings. New York: Abbeville, 2010.
  7. Warwick, Genevieve. Caravaggio: Realism, Rebellion, Reception. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2006.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Boy with a Basket of Fruit

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, c.1593, is a painting generally ascribed to Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, currently in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.

The painting dates from the time when Caravaggio, newly arrived in Rome from his native Milan, was making his way in the competitive Roman art world. The model was his friend and companion, the Sicilian painter Mario Minniti, at about 16 years old. The work was in the collection of Giuseppe Cesari, the Cavaliere d'Arpino, seized by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1607, and may therefore date to the period when Caravaggio worked for d'Arpino "painting flowers and fruits" in his workshop; but it may date from a slightly later period when Caravaggio and Minniti had left Cavalier d'Arpino's workshop (January 1594) to make their own way selling paintings through the dealer Costantino. Certainly it cannot predate 1593, the year Minniti arrived in Rome. It is believed to predate more complex works from the same period (also featuring Minniti as a model) such as The Fortune Teller and the Cardsharps (both 1594), the latter of which brought Caravaggio to the attention of his first important patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte. Vittorio Sgarbi notes certain Murillesque portraiture qualities in the painting that could easily point to other painters in the Arpino workshop.

At one level the painting is a genre piece designed to demonstrate the artist's ability to depict everything from the skin of the boy to the skin of a peach, from the folds of the robe to the weave of the basket. The fruit is especially exquisite, and Professor Jules Janick of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University, Indiana, has analysed them 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.

The analysis indicates that Caravaggio is being realistic. By capturing only what was in the fruit basket, he idealizes neither their ripeness nor their arrangement—yet almost miraculously, we are still drawn in to look at it, for the viewer it is very much a beautiful and exquisite subject.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Boy with a Basket of Fruit.