Trained in Lombardy, Caravaggio moved in 1592 or 1593 to Rome, where he initially made his reputation with a number of realistic paintings of half-length figures. This picture dates about 1595 and was painted for his first great patron, Cardinal Francesco del Monte. Although it was described by contemporaries as simply "una musica" (music piece), it is an allegory of music. Cupid, "who is always in the company of music" (Vasari), is shown at left with a bunch of grapes, "because music was invented to keep spirits happy, as does wine" (Ripa). The costumes have a vaguely classical look.
The surface of the picture is worn and there are extensive losses in the back of the right-hand figure and in the still life of music and the violin. The upturned page of music is a reconstruction based on an old copy of the picture.