Roman School, circa 1605-1610, Still life with fruit on a stone ledge - Photo Sotheby's

oil on canvas; 34 1/4  by 53 1/4  in.; 87.2 by 135.4 cm. Estimation: 2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD 


Possibly Cardinal Antonio Barberini, Palazzo ai Giubbonari, Rome, by 1671;
Possibly bequeathed to his brother, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, Rome, 1672;
Private collection, Madrid;
Anonymous sale, Madrid, Edmund Peel & Asociados, 20 February 1992, lot 5 (as Follower of Caravaggio);
There purchased by the present owner.


On loan to the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, February 1995-March 1997;
On loan to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, March 1997-March 2000;
On loan to the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, April 2000-October 2003;
Sydney, National Gallery of New South Wales; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Caravaggio & His World:
Darkness & Light, November 2003- May 2004, no. 7;
On loan to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, June 2004-July 2006;
Williamsburg, Virginia, Muscarelle Museum of Art, Natura Morta: Still Life Painting and the Medici Collections,
November 2006-January 2007;
On loan to the Kimbell Museum of Art, Fort Worth, Texas, January 2007-August 2007;On loan to the Denver Museum of Art, Denver, September 2007-2011.


Possibly inventory of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, 1671 (IV.inv.71), p. 495, no. 354;
Possibly inventory of bequests of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, 1672 (IV. hered. 72), sc. 22182, no. 141;
Possibly M.A. Lavin, "Caravaggio Documents from the Barberini Archive", in The Burlington Magazine, August 1967;
Possibly M.A. Lavin, Seventeenth-Century Barberini Documents and Inventories of Art, New York 1975, pp. 309, 342;
Possibly A. Moir, Caravaggio and His Copyists, New York 1976, p. 124, note 185 (where connected to the picture in the 1671 Barberini inventory);
M. Cinotti, Caravaggio: tutte le opera, Bergamo 1983, cat. no. 125 (as lost);
Possibly M. Gregori, The Age of Caravaggio, exhibition catalogue, New York 1985, p. 208, under cat. no. 64 (where described only as a picture possibly connected to the Barberini still life);
M. Gregori, Caravaggio, Milan 1994;
J.T. Spike, "Caravaggio erotico" in FMR, 75, August 1995, pp. 14–22 (as by Caravaggio);
L. Pratesi, "L'Altra natura di Caravaggio", in L'Espresso, December 1995;
G. Berra, "Arcimboldi e Caravaggio: 'Diligenza' e 'Patienza' nella natura morta arcaica.", in Paragone, 8–10, 1996, pp.108–61, 128–29, 154, n. 88 (quotes Baglione,"unequivocally indicates plurality in the production of still life's by Caravaggio"; from photo seems later in date);
J.T. Spike, in S. Macioce (ed). Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. La vita e le opere attraverso i documenti. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Rome 1996, pp. 212–19, reproduced, fig. 85 (as by Caravaggio, where dated to 1605);
C. Puglisi, Caravaggio, London 1998, cat. no. 45 (with a doubted attribution to Caravaggio, and dated to circa 1603);
P. Robb, M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio, Sydney 1998, pp. 497, 511 (where given as probably right, and dated to 1605);
J. Varriano, "Torna Betseba," in Quadri e sculture, vol. 6, 1998, p. 39;
J.T. Spike, Caravaggio, New York and London 2001, pp. 143-6, 253, cat. no. 35, reproduced in color (dated to 1603, as by Caravaggio);
R. Conway Morris, "Caravaggio's still lifes paved the way for Italian artists : The pioneer and his followers," in The International Herald Tribune, August 2003;
J. Spike, in E. Capon (ed.), Caravaggio & His World: Darkness & Light, exhibition catalogue, Sydney and Melbourne 2003-2004, pp. 12-13, 20, 92-93, 227, cat. no. 7, reproduced in color (as by Caravaggio);
J. Paton, How to Look at a Painting, Wellington 2005;
J. Varriano, "Fruits and Vegetables as Sexual Metaphor in Late Renaissance Rome", in Gastronomica, Fall 2005;
J. Varriano, Caravaggio: The Art of Realism, University Park, Pennsylvania 2006, pp. 69-70, reproduced, fig. 57 (no firm opinion offered on an attribution);
M. Warner, "An Early Masterpiece of Stll-Life Painting", in The Kimbell Art Museum Calendar, February 2007 (as by Caravaggio);
J.T. Spike, Caravaggio, second revised edition, New York and London 2010, pp. 143-6, 259, cat. no. 35, reproduced in color (dated to 1603, as by Caravaggio);
A.H. de Groft (ed.), Caravaggio: Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge, Papers of the Muscarelle Museum of Art, vol. I, Williamsburg, Virginia 2010;
C. Barbieri and D. Frascarelli (ed.), Natura Morta: Rappresentazione dell'Oggetto, Oggetto come Rappresentazione, Naples 2010;
H. Adams, "A Fruitful Inquiry", in Art and Antiques Magazine, May 2011.


This grand and beautifully arranged Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge is both an important and evocative example of the first generation of Roman still life painting. Completed sometime in the first decade of the 17th century, it dramatically exemplifies the advances made in the still-life genre in the early seicento. What appears to be a straightforward display of fruit is in fact a highly thought out and studied compositional tour-de-force, so successful as a deceptively complex and meticulously rendered picture.

Presented here is an amalgam of more traditional modes of early still-life painting with a completely new and powerful approach to the genre. On the far left side of the composition is a simple basket filled with a profusion of apples, pear, grapes, and figs. Though not easily known to Baroque artists, such representations of fruit in a basket have roots as far back as Roman wall paintings, common in many ancient villas, and depicted both in painted and mosaic form. More contemporaneous with the present example are late cinquecento Lombard examples of simple fruit still life's, such as the work of Fede Galizia, notably her Peaches in a Pierced White Faience Basket (see F. Caroli, Fede Galizia, Turin, 1989, p. 87, no. 25), as well as her Still-Life with Cherries (Hampton Court).

The composition here carefully draws the viewer’s eye from left to right, leading away from the basket of fruit and across to a group of eight figs and three round striped melons. The most dramatic element within the composition is undoubtedly the large serpentine bottle gourds which dominate the right portion of the composition. Their sleek white surface is set off against the ripe red watermelons which have been cut into pieces and carefully arranged at the edge of the stone ledge. The entire composition is lit in a highly dramatic fashion. Its single source of light rushes into the scene from top left, not unlike a theatrical stage setting. Such intense lighting washes over each piece of fruit, highlighting the beautiful, yet highly realistic and intricately rendered surfaces of every still life element. The ledge itself, a stark and cold grey slab of carved stone, is also rendered in a highly realistic manner. Small chunks are missing from the hulking piece of stone, thus lending its surface a worn complexion which echoes the bruised and cut surfaces of the fruit itself. It is this complex arrangement and dramatic lighting which encapsulates the developments made in Rome in the genre of still-life. Few in Rome at this time would have been capable of conceiving of such an innovative and technically proficient work, a fact which has naturally led to Caravaggio as a possible candidate for its authorship, and it is for that reason that this picture has emerged as a significant contribution to not only Roman still life painting, but to all Italian still life painting of the 17th century.

Compositionally, Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge relates closely to the woodcut frontispiece of the Venetian Antonio Gardano's (1509-1569) Mottetti del frutto (fig.1), an anthology of musical motets by the composers Jacques Arcadelt and Nicolas Gombet, published by the Gardano studio in 1538. The Gardano woodcut is an important link between the worlds of art and music. Printed nearly fifty years before the genre of still life painting became a fully formed entity, this still life woodcut was widely published throughout Italy and existed as one of the earliest examples of a modern Italian Still-Life image of any sort. Given its immense popularity and dissemination throughout Europe, the woodcut would have almost certainly been seen in Rome by the group of artists developing the genre at the turn of the century, and must have served as an inspiration for not only this composition, but also for other emerging artists
in the city seeking to define a still life idiom for the first time.1 In fact, there is direct evidence that Caravaggio himself had first hand knowledge of the woodcut, as he illustrated a page of music in his Lute Player (fig.3 1594-5, Hermitage, St. Petersburg, inv. 45), which is a madrigal by Arcadelt as published by Gardano.

That this Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge is of the highest quality, and clearly connected with Caravaggio and other highly innovative Roman artists at the turn of the century, leads to the surprising realization that it was only rediscovered at auction in 1992 (see Provenance). Upon its reemergence into the scholarly discourse it immediately sparked debate regarding its likely attribution, which up to this point has remained a topic of debate. Those who have argued in favor of Caravaggio’s authorship point to period texts which make reference to a still life painted by him. Specifically, the picture may correspond to the description of a Still Life with a Basket of Fruit on a Stone Table by Caravaggio in the collection of Cardinal Antonio Barberini.Though a conversion of the 17th century palmi do not match exactly the dimensions of this canvas, the system for comparing modern measurements with those from 17thcentury texts remains an inexact science. If indeed this picture is that which was owned by the Barberini, it is likely to have formed part of a group of three paintings by Caravaggio commissioned by Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII), and paid in four installments between June 1603 and January 1604.3 At the time of the Pope's death in 1644 his nephew Cardinal Antonio Barberini the younger would have presumably inherited the Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge. The extant literature neither describe nor assign a title to any of the paintings acquired from Caravaggio by Maffeo Barberini in 1603. Presently, only one of the three which has been identified with complete certainty is the  Sacrifice of Isaac in the Uffizi.

The dynamic artistic environment in which Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge was created cannot be overstated. Certainly, Caravaggio was the leading proponent of the genre, if not through the number of independent still lifes he executed, then through the obvious skill and bold refinement he brought to its development. Without question, his Basket of Fruit (Fiscella) (1599, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan) emerges as the most strikingly original contribution to Italian still life painting in the 17th century. Furthermore, his seamless interweaving of still life compositions into otherwise purely religious or secular scenes allows for a fuller understanding of his affinity for still life painting. Both The Supper at Emmaus (fig. 2, 1601-2, National Gallery, London, inv. 172), and The Lute Player (fig. 3), provide an early framework through which Roman artists could conceive of new modes of representing inanimate objects. Though beyond Caravaggio’s undeniable contribution to Roman still life painting, and thus to the creation of Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge, the group of artists working around Caravaggio at this time were perhaps equally as fundamental in fostering a dynamic artistic environment in which this stunning work could have been executed. The field is no doubt complicated, and in fact the identities of a number of the artists working in and around Rome at the turn of the century have yet to be fully understood. Anonymous masters such as Pensionante del Saraceni, the Master of the Acquavella Still Lifes, and the Master of Hartford (who was himself considered to be Caravaggio for a time), contribute key independent still life’s in the first quarter of the 17th century that bear marked stylistic and compositional similarities with the present work. Additionally, more fully recognized hands such as Tommaso Salini, Giovanni Battista Crescenzi, and Agostino Verrochi each embrace the still life genre, helping to cultivate and foster both its legitimacy and desirability in Roman collecting circles at the turn of the century. When compared with key examples from these foundational artists (see M. Gregori, La Natura Morta Italiana Da Caravaggio al Settecento, exhibition catalogue, Florence 2003, p. 122-185), Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge emerges as a superlative, andsoaring highlight from this revolutionary moment in Roman painting.

1. See Literature, A.H. de Groft 2010, p. 90, note 5.
2. "Un quadro di p.mo 4 e 3-rappresentante Diversi frutti porti sop'a Un Tavolino di Pietra un Una Canestra mano di Michel Angelo da Caravaggio Con Cornice Nera filettata d'oro Rabescata no. 1-50-" Trans: A painting of 4 palmi by 3 representing diverse fruits on a stone table in a basket by Michel Angelo da Caravaggio with a black gilt frame no. 1, 50 scudi." See Literature, Lavin 1975, p. 309.
3. M.A. Lavin, "Caravaggio Documents from the Barberini Archive", in The Burlington Magazine, August 1967.

Sotheby's. Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture. New York | 31 janv. 2013 www.sothebys.com