The Basket of Fruit: emblem of Caravaggio's realism
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Basket of fruit

Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio - 1597-1598 circa

A basket of fruit. A simple subject, but with a wealth of symbolism and allusion, painted with considerable expressive power. As usual, the famous 16th century painter Caravaggio is dazzling for his extreme realism.

This canvas can be seen in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.

One has the impression of almost scenting the fragrance and tasting the flavour of these fruits, as if reliving the story behind this composition. The painting is the result of an exchange of letters between Cardinal Federico Borromeo and Cardinal del Monte, both sharing the same passion for art and art collecting, which, in the case of Cardinal Borromeo, led to his project for the Gallery.

The painting was created in 1597-1598, and given to Cardinal Borromeo in 1618. It is an example of the artist’s early work. In this period, he dedicated particular attention to the naturalistic depiction of objects.

The basket of fruit is in the foreground, a harmonious composition of fruit and leaves. It is placed on a table, off centre, almost unbalanced, as if it were about to fall.

It expresses the ephemeral nature of earthly things (a theme that was often discussed by the two Cardinals in their letters). The reds and browns of the fruit contrast with the bright, featureless background, which seems to evoke an almost divine light that models reflections and transparency, focusing the attention onto the foreground image.

The work was one of the Cardinal’s favourites. It belongs to a group of paintings with natural subjects, such as the collection of still life paintings by Flemish artist Bruegel.

A curiosity: the painting was reproduced on the 100,000 lire banknote thus known as the “Caravaggio” (it was legal tender from 1983 to 2001).


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