Nov 162008
 

Perhaps too much stress has been put into sexual interpretations of this early painting (exists in two versions, one hangs in National Gallery in London (Boy Bitten by a Lizard), the other in La Collezione di Roberto Longhi in Florence) by Caravaggio (Wikipedia Article on Boy Bitten by a Lizard, and Caravaggio Wikipedia Article). There is a broader context: the symbolical loss of innocence by way of experiencing sudden, unexpected pain. We witness a scene where the actor encounters the “painful” side of life, or world — and shrinks back, apparently taken by surprise. It is the pronounced element of surprise that allows to interpret the boy’s reaction as a first-time experience and the entire image as a dynamic juxtaposition of ignorance and knowledge.

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Boy Bitten by a Lizard, c…
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The composition contains a subtle hint on the motif of Knowledge. The roundly shaped head of the boy is repeated symmetrically in the vase, which serves as a mirror — an object known to represent knowledge. The composition encourages us to draw an imaginary Cartesian coordinate system, one axis spreading between the two (also symmetrically mirror-like reflected) twisted hands, and the other between the two buds. The imaginary coordinates again suggest the clash between experience and innocence, perpendicularly opposing each other like the two axes. In a way, we witness the gaining of experience when viewing the painting from left to right, and of knowledge from down up, all in a allegoric continuous motion. The point where the boy is being bitten is locate somewhere in the lower left area, where both parameters carry the negative sign.

The geometrical framework encourages to envisage with more confidence a link between the mirror-like convex glass surface of the bowl and the boy’s face. The bitten victim would also have to process the event — to upraise it from the negative parts of the coordinate system to the positive ones; he would have to undergo realization and internalization after the initial shock subsides. While presenting us with this psychological evolution, the artist stands out not only as a painter, but also as a humanist — a sage and a visionary who truly understands human nature.

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A Young Boy Peeling an Apple
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Considering the abundant flora and edible fruits on the table, a leap to the notion of tree of knowledge and thus the erotic (or homoerotic) viewing is more than reasonable — but in no way should be the the principal one. Perhaps it may serve as a point of departure, not as a decisive, final interpretation. Overall, I think that this painting testifies to the artist’s intellectual prowess — his ability to manipulate symbols and images to not only allude but also recreate a wider context that appeals to human condition.

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