Salini was long known primarily on account of his appearance as a witness in the lawsuit for libel brought by his friend Giovanni Baglione against Caravaggio in August 1603. Dismissing claims that he had composed defamatory verses about a Resurrection painted by Baglione, Caravaggio refers to Salini as 'one who is always with Baglione and whom they call his guardian angel....They call him Mao' (see W. Friedlander, Caravaggio Studies, Princeton and London, 1955, pp. 270-9). Salini had a successful career, becoming a member of the Accademia di S. Luca in 1605 and subsequently a Knight of the Order of the Golden Spur, a member of the Congregazione di Virtuosi al Pantheon and the 'custode e revisore delle fontane di piazza Navona'.
The reconstruction of Salini's oeuvre was begun in the 1950s. A reassessment of his significance in Caravaggio's circle in Rome has only been made possible, however, in recent years with the publication of articles by Vittoria Markova, Gianni Papi and Mina Gregori in Paragone, Year XL, New Series, 17 (475), September 1989, on Salini's activity as a painter of figures, including altarpieces for Roman churches, and of figures with animals. Even more recently, in Paragone, Year XLVIII, 3rd Series, 15-16 (571-573), September-November 1997, Donatella Pegazzano published the posthumous inventory of the contents of the painter's house. This, as Mina Gregori points out in an article in the same issue, helps to explain why Baglione, in his biography of Salini published in 1642, praises his friend above all as the 'first to arrange and paint flowers with their leaves in vases with various very whimsical and bizarre inventions', since it demonstrates that he was responsible for the paintings of flowers in sculpted vases previously considered the work of Giacomo Recco (such as the pairs at Sotheby's, New York, 21 May 1998, lot 72, and at Christie's, New York, 29 January 1999, lot 162). The inventory also confirms that Salini was the uncle of Mario Nuzzi (Mario dei Fiori), who presumably began his career as a flower painter by completing the unfinshed works left in Salini's studio.
The present, previously unrecorded, picture is characteristic of Salini's paintings of figures (usually single figures) with animals. Indeed, the goose recurs in the Boy with Birds and a Tortoise and the pair of duck in the Girl with Birds, both in private collections (Paragone, 475, pls. 37 and 52). Salini's sensitivity to feline characteristics demonstrated here is also evident in the Shepherd playing with a Cat at Sevastopol and in the Children playing with a Cat, formerly attributed to Orazio Gentileschi, at Locko Park (ibid., pls. 31 and 36).
Professoressa Mina Gregori has kindly confirmed the attribution from a photograph (letter of 25 March 1999).