The simple composition in front of us features a young boy peeling fruit besides a small wooden table. He wears a loose white shirt and is entirely concentrating on the task at hand. In front of him are a number of items of fruit, including a couple of peaches. At this early point in his career, Caravaggio would have used this, and the other version, to practice several technical aspects of his work. We can already see the characteristic use of light that spread throughout his oeuvre, but he would also have been concerning himself with the challenging discipline of accurately capturing the rolled material that makes up the boy's shirt, as well as the still life aspect which is from the fruit. There is also the figurative portraiture that is found in almost all of Caravaggio's paintings, and therefore was an essential ingredient that needed constant practice.
This painting is dated at 1592-1593, at which point Caravaggio would have been in his early twenties. It is now stored at the Hampton Court Palace, as part of the extraordinary Royal Collection which has amassed a large number of paintings and drawings from the Italian Renaissance as well as some from more recent art movements. This follow up piece is slightly smaller, though the young boy remains much the same size - Caravaggio simply reduced some of the space around him for this version. That slight change draws us closer to the boy, as we watch him slowly peeling a variety of fruit. He chose to brighten the palette a little here, with the fruit, for example, being in more vibrant tones than in the earlier Italian painting. We believe that there were two further versions of this composition at around the same time, too.
In a sign of Caravaggio's god-given talents, many of his best work was actually very early on in his career. He was less ambitious at this stage in terms of the numbers of figures within his work, but there are still some beautiful and influential works to have come from his twenties, when most mere mortals would still very much be in their learning and development stage. Some of the highlights include Young Sick Bacchus, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Fortune Teller and Cardsharps, all of which appeared at around the same time as his different versions of the Boy Peeling Fruit. He would stick to no more than three or four figures at this stage per painting and did not go for dramatic poses yet. Religious themes would enter his work later on and it was mainly those that brought about the extreme emotions for which we best remember his work today.