Attributed to Annibale Carracci (Italian, Bolognese, 15601609)
Oil on canvas; 26 x 35 in. (66 x 88.9 cm)
Purchase, Gwynne Andrews Fund, and Bequests of Collis P. Huntington and Ogden Mills, by exchange, 1994 (1994.142)
Painted with a directness and spontaneity that looks forward to nineteenth-century art, this engaging picture dates from around 1590 and is among the earliest Italian genre paintings, predating by several years Caravaggio's first genre pictures. In its handling of light it recalls the work of Paolo Veronese, which Annibale studied during a trip to Venice. The picture may well carry a moralizing lesson similar to our expression "playing with fire": one of the children will surely get scratched.
The picture seems to have been well known in Bologna, where it belonged to the Ranuzzi family. Purchased from them by Cardinal Tommaso Ruffo, whose celebrated collection included Velázquez's Juan de Pareja, also in the Metropolitan (1971.86), the picture was bought in 1776 by Sir William Hamilton for his nephew Charles Francis Greville. For many years it hung at Castle Howard. A second, now-lost version of the composition belonged to the ruling Farnese family at Parma.