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Caravaggio’s Earliest Known Work – Boy Peeling Fruit

The earliest known work by Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is Boy Peeling Fruit.  The painting was created in Caravaggio’s first years in Rome and is dated c.1592-1593.  Several copies of the painting exist, most copies derived from Caravaggio’s original, but it is believed that the original is now part of the British Royal Collection.  Many of the copies have been labeled as being created by Caravaggio.

Boy Peeling Fruit

It is unclear exactly when the painting was created. Some believe it might have been painted while Caravaggio stayed with Monsignor Pandulfo Pucci in the Palazzo Colonna or perhaps later when he was working for Giuseppe Cesari.  Boy Peeling Fruit would have been a piece that Caravaggio worked on for personal sale rather than one assigned by Pucci or Cesari.  In 1607, the painting was one of 3 seized by Cardinal Scipione Borghese from Cesari’s collection.  It is unknown how Cesari had the three Caravaggio paintings in his collection.  These include Young Sick Bacchus and Boy with a Basket of Fruit.

Boy Peeling Fruit depicts a scene from everyday life as a young boy holding a piece of fruit in his fingers pushes a knife through the fruit skin to peel it.  The background is simply black though the boy seems to radiate and is surprisingly clean and well dressed.  The v-shape of the boy’s shirt opening as well as his eyes gazing down, draw attention down the painting to the fruit he is peeling.  The type of fruit depicted in the painting has been disputed; some argue it’s a nectarine, pear, apple or bergamot, while others says it’s simply “Caravaggio’s fruit”.  Giulio Mancini, a contemporary and friend of Caravaggio’s, wrote about the painting in 1617-1621 and stated that the fruit was a pear.

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