A Renaissance painting reveals how breeding changed watermelons - Vox
James Nienhuis, a horticulture professor at the University of Wisconsin, uses the Stanchi painting in his classes to teach about the history of crop breeding.
“It’s fun to go to art museums and see the still-life pictures, and see what our vegetables looked like 500 years ago,” he told me. In many cases, it’s our only chance to peer into the past, since we can’t preserve vegetables for hundreds of years.
The watermelon originally came from Africa, but after domestication it thrived in hot climates in the Middle East and southern Europe. It probably became common in European gardens and markets around 1600. Old watermelons, like the one in Stanchi’s picture, likely tasted pretty good — Nienhuis thinks the sugar content would have been reasonably high, since the melons were eaten fresh and occasionally fermented into wine. But they still looked a lot different.