A similar composition, with the female figure in an almost identical pose, appears in Creti’s Girl Holding Flower, dating to circa 1715-1721, in the Musei Civici, d’Arte Antica, Bologna (loc. cit.). The Bologna painting forms one of a set of eight, largescale overdoors, each depicting a single figure (four male and four female) and executed in a monochrome palette as though mimicking carved reliefs. She appears again, with slight variations, in Creti’s Allegorical Tomb of Joseph Addison in Villa Wolkonsky, Rome (see R. Roli, ‘Il Creti a Palazzo: il lascito Collina Sbaraglia al Senato di Bologna (1744)', Arte a Bologna, Bollettino dei Musei Civici d'arte antica, I, (1990), p. 50) and was later reprised among studies in a drawing in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna (inv. no. 1764).
Despite much study, the transcending theme of the Bologna overdoors has never been determined and the subject of Girl Holding a Flower remains particularly enigmatic. The present composition differs from the Bologna painting not only in its coloration but also in the inclusion of a second, male figure in the background. The girl reclines within the mouth of a cave which, while providing an excuse for the dramatic chiaroscuro setting, may also provide insight into the painting’s subject. The painting perhaps depicts an early moment in the episode of Echo and Narcissus, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. According to the Roman epic poem, having been rejected by Narcissus, Echo falls into despair, wasting until only her voice remains. The cave might be intended to evoke Echo’s eponymous aural effect, while the background figure depicts Narcissus, as yet unaware of his own fate.