Boy with a Basket of Fruit

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Caravaggio, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593
By ELLIE SCHNEIDER

In 1884, John Singer-Sargent famously painted Madame X, which was displayed at the Salon in Paris. In the painting, Madame X dons an elegant black gown with straps. A little known facts is that Singer-Sargent originally painted one of the straps to fall off of her shoulder. This scandalous choice received backlash from viewers and the model, enough so that Sargent repainted the strap securely around her shoulder.

John Singer-Sargent, Madame X, 1884

In 1593, Caravaggio painted Boy with a Basket of Fruit. When I first looked at this work, my eyes were drawn to the boy’s muscular shoulder, rather than to the vibrant fruit. His the white cloth of his shirt rests below his shoulder. Immediately I remembered Singer-Sargent’s Madame X. Is Boy with a Basket of Fruit the original Madame X?

The fruit is captured at its peak of ripeness. The boy, at 16 years of age, is also at peak ripeness. Caravaggio could have just painted the fruit, like he did with Basket of Fruit in 1599. Rather than set his basket of fruit to a plain background, he places it in the hands of a boy, who was actually fellow painter Mario Minniti. By painting a boy holding the fruit, he adds depth and emotion to the work, since he captures the strong colors of the fruit, the emotions of the boy, and the tension between the boy’s body and the basket.

The boy stood for who knows how long as Caravaggio painted this masterpiece. His muscles are flexed from holding the basket and his head is leaned back. His face shows a look of annoyance and boredom, as if the face was painted a few hours into his modeling session. Still, face also has a sensual look. The boy’s sleeve has conveniently fallen off the boy’s shoulder, letting the viewer get a nice view of his built upper body.

The light hits the boys’ face and shoulder, causing him to glisten. The fruit is also highlighted by the light source coming from the upper left corner. The boy, his white shirt, and the colorful fruit pop against the shadows in the background. His dark hair adds interesting contrast with the lightness of the background at the top of the painting.

Caravaggio is a master of details. The wicker basket looks intricate and well-constructed. The folds in the boy’s shirt look real. Each morsel of fruit looks freshly picked. The boy’s face and flesh looks realistic. Caravaggio’s great eye for detail and skill helps his paintings come to life.

*In Simon Schama’s The Power of Art: Caravaggio Andrew Garfield portrays the Boy with a Basket of Fruit. I would like to start a petition for praise of his performance. #Oscar4Andrew, get it trending people.

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