This painting belongs to the group of still life paintings by the, as yet, unidentified Master named after the Still life with a vase of flowers and a basket of fruit exhibited by the art dealer Acquavella in Naples in 1964 as by an 'anonymous Caravaggist painter'. Since the hand was recognised, a succession of names have been suggested for the artist's identity; names put forward, as yet inconclusively, have included Angelo Caroselli, Giovanni Battista Crescenzi, Artemisia Gentileschi, Luca Forte and Pietro Paolini (see L. Laureati in the catalogue of the exhibition, The Genius of Rome, London, Royal Academy, January-April 2001; Rome, Palazzo Venezia, May-August 2001, pp. 84-5, nos. 25-6, and pp. 72, 76 and 79).
His work is characteristic of Italian still life painting at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries, headed by Caravaggio, and including other contemporaries such as the Master of the Hartford Still Life and the Pensionante del Saraceni. The Acquavella Master was, however, one of the more innovative of his generation, taking the still life format away from the standard table arrangement of his peers, and developing a fuller compositional arrangement that was greatly to influence the next generation of still life painters, such as Ruoppolo, Michelangelo di Campidoglio and Cerquozzi.
It has been suggested that the developers of Italian still life were influenced by descriptions of classical still lifes, and the present work bears noticeable similarities with many elements of a painting described by Philostratus in his Imagines (Book I, 31): 'Purple figs dripping with juice...are depicted with breaks in their skin, some just cracking open....some split apart, they are so ripe....some still green and "untimely"....All the ground is strewn with chestnuts, some of which are rubbed free of the burr, others lie quite shut up, and others show the burr breaking... See, too, the pears on pears, apples on apples...all fragrant and golden....Here is fruit in clusters heaped in a basket, and the basket is woven, not from alien twigs, but from the branches of the plant itself. And if you look at the vine-sprays woven together and at the clusters hanging from them and how the grapes stand out one by one, you will certainly hymn Dionysus and speak of the vine as "Queenly giver of grapes."'
The present picture shows clear stylistic similarities with other works by the Master, perhaps most strikingly with the left side of the famous Still life with a Violinist (Private collection; ibid., p. 85, no. 85). Also closely comparable is the Still life with a basket of fruit and two children sold, Sotheby's, New York, 28 January 2000, lot 132 ($882,500). In that work, as also in the Aminta's Lament (ibid., p. 84, no. 25), the figures are by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (c. 1590-1625), to whom also may be tentatively attributed that of the boy in the present painting.