Born in Coldrerio near Lugano in 1612, Pier Francesco Mola moved to Rome with his family as a young boy. He was to remain there all his life except for two periods of absence, 1633-1640 and 1641-47, when he was in Northern Italy finishing his training and launching his career. Despite a lack of firm documentation, he appears to have visited Venice and Bologna, where he spent two years with Francesco Albani (probably 1645-47) and became strongly attracted to the work of Guercino. Although his earlier fame rested on landscape painting (with a marked Venetian influence), his move to Rome in 1647 led to a number of commissions for frescoes and altarpieces that required the creation of a grander, more monumental style, the most significant of these being the large Joseph Greeting His Brethren in the Palazzo Quirinale (1656-57). In 1659 Mola entered a protracted and unsuccessful lawsuit against Don Camillo Pamphili for work done at the latter's summer palace at Valentino. Despite this, he continued to attract important patrons, such as Pope Alexander VII and the Colonna family, and produced some increasingly dramatic and powerful works, among them the Vision of Saint Bruno (1662-1663). Elected President of the Accademia di San Luca in 1662, he was forced to resign the following year due to ill-health (caused in part by the legal dispute with the Pamphili) and he died four years later.
This hitherto unpublished picture is a rare but characteristic example of the decorative, figure subjects by Pier Francesco Mola. In a private letter to the owner Nicholas Turner suggests that it can possibly be identified with the one included in an exhibition held in 1701 in the monastery of S. Salvatore in Lauro, Rome, at one of the annual exhibitions of pictures organized at the church by the then secretary of the Accademia di San Luca, Giuseppe Ghezzi. Among the items on view was a 'Suonatore di violino da quattro palmi del Mola', which then belonged to a Signor Giovanni Truglia (see the catalogue of the exhibition Pier Francesco Mola, Lugano, Museo Cantonale d'Arte, and, Rome, Musei Capitolini, 1989-990, p. 162).
The youthful musician recalls Mola's famous full-length representation of 'A youth playing the viola da gamba', which is known in two versions, one near the artist's birthplace in the Sala del Consiglio di Stato, Palazzo Governativo, Bellinzona, and the other in a private collection (ibid., pp. 160-161, illustrated). Because of the stylistic analogy of these paintings of musicians with that of Oriental Warrior in the Louvre, which is signed and dated 1650, Turner dates the present picture to around that year, or slightly later: 'The intense colouring of the present canvas and the sophisticated psychology of the youth would seem to suggest a slightly later date, possibly in the middle of the 1650s.'