This painting is one of a pair of fruit still lives (its partner being Still Lite of Figs, Cherries, Plums and other Fruit, with two Guinea Pigs, CVCSC:0290.1.S). The long rectangular format suggests that the pair was probably designed to be hung over interior doors in an aristocratic palace, or palazzo, and for this reason also called overdoors, or sovrapporte.
In this composition, elements are arranged freely on a wooden surface along the entire length of the canvas. Hidden under a crown of red cherries, a bearded monkey has just gnawed away the melon beside him and is now ready to start on the basket of juicy figs. From left to right we see black prunes, white prunes (known as susine di Monreale – a specialty from Sicily), and a watermelon cut in a half and a third. The pieces of melon are theatrically framed by another Sicilian delicacy, the zucca serpente (snake squash), and by pere cosce (small, round pears).
Giovan Battista Ruoppolo was one of the most sought-after painters of still lives in eighteenth-century Naples. During his mature period he attempted new and different inventions, including, as in these two paintings, inserting living animals and dreamlike landscapes into still life scenes.
Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo Still Life with Watermelons, Plums, Cherries, a Basket of Figs, Pears and a Monkey About 1685 © Compton Verney