Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 1594–96
Oil on canvas, 25 5/8 x 20 1/2 in.
(65 x 52 cm)
Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell’Arte Roberto Longhi, Florence
One of Caravaggio’s biographers wrote that “he also painted a boy bitten by a lizard emerging from flowers and fruits; you could almost hear the boy scream, and it was done meticulously.” The picture has suggested various interpretations. As an allegory of touch, it provides the basis for a study of how emotion is expressed physically, and arguably Caravaggio alludes to all the five senses (flowers as smell and so on). With the still life of fruits and roses, common emblems of love, he invokes age-old adages—pain can follow pleasure, and love is a rose with thorns that prick. Poets from Petrarch onward played on the similarity of the Italian words for “love” and “bitter”—amore and amaro—to which Caravaggio adds ramarro (lizard), ingeniously enlarging the joke.
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