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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Boy bitten by a Lizard

Key facts
Full title Boy bitten by a Lizard
Artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Artist dates 1571 - 1610
Date made about 1594-5
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 66 × 49.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with the aid of a contribution from the J. Paul Getty Jr Endowment Fund, 1986
Inventory number NG6504
Location On loan: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, Chimei Museum, Tainan City, Taiwan
Collection Main Collection
Boy bitten by a Lizard
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

An effeminate youth recoils in pain as he is bitten by a lizard, which clings tenaciously to his finger. In the foreground is a magnificent still life of fruit, with a rose and sprig of jasmine in a glass vase. Look closely and you can see the reflection of a room in the curved surface of the vase. The painting may have an allegorical meaning, and possibly refers to the pain that can derive from love.

This picture is the earliest of our three Caravaggios and was probably painted in Rome in the mid-1590s, when the artist was beginning to find fame with his compelling and innovative style. It is very unusual for a late sixteenth-century painting to show such a moment of action, but Caravaggio rejected artistic convention and painted directly onto the canvas from live models. This gave his works an immediacy and intensity that made them instantly popular. Numerous early seventeenth-century copies and derivations of this painting exist, including a high-quality replica in the Fondazione Longhi, Florence, considered by many to be by Caravaggio himself.

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