Boy bitten by a lizard

(1595-1596; London, National Gallery)
   This work belongs to Caravaggio's early career and demonstrates the impact of Venetian art on his style. The sensuousness of the figure, with the shirt off the shoulder to reveal the soft skin, intense colors, and golden lighting, are borrowed from the likes of Titian, while the pushing of the figure and still-life elements to the foreground recall the immediacy of Lorenzo Lotto's subjects. The work also demonstrates Caravaggio's awareness of Sofonisba Anguissola's Boy Bitten by a Crayfish (c. 1555), a drawing now at the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples. The subject of the painting is not completely understood. The rose worn by the boy behind the ear is associated with Venus and amorous enticement. The cherries on the table carry erotic connotations, while the jasmine in the vase is a symbol of prudence. The word for lizard in Greek is similar to the word phallus, which peppers the scene with even greater erotic content. These symbolic elements suggest, as scholars have recognized, that the work speaks of engaging in love with prudence to avoid pain.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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