|Courtesy of www.Caravaggio.org|
The canvas was originally longer, although of the same height. X-rays reveal the right end of a frieze of putti and garlands by another artist, possibly Caravaggio's friend Prosperino delle Grottesche, underneath this image. Caravaggio cut this end of the frieze off, turned the canvas upside down, primed it, painted the still life on it, and then added the background.
This is Caravaggio's only independent still life that survives and has been identified securely. Sensitive and respectful rendering of fruit, crystal, linen, and the like was traditional among North Italians, but not until about the time of Caravaggio's birth did a few Lombard artists begin to paint still life unrelated to figures. Caravaggio followed their example. His accomplishment as a still-life painter was recognized and became partly responsible for the popularization of the genre among Italian painters during his lifetime and after.
He dignified the subject. The Basket of Fruit is like a haiku: unpretentious, but striking and intensely concentrated. The components are presented forthrightly, without any evident mannerism. Asymmetrical and seemingly piled up casually, they have in fact been arranged as carefully as an architectural construction. The low horizon line causes the basket to loom up, confirming the monumental effect. Each organic element reveals its proper form and obeys nature's laws: the still-fresh dewdrops, the characteristic shapes of the different kinds of leaves, the apple's color modulation, the pearl-like grapes, the figs' striated skins, the woven rhythm of the straw fabric of the basket, even its loose strand. Each is specific, and yet each is transmuted to universality. The leaves summarize the life cycle: still reaching toward the sun on the upper left, drooping on the lower left, and withering and dying on the right. No wonder one writer has seen a reflection on life and death in the picture.