Watermelon: an evolving fruit
“It is the chief of this world’s luxuries, king by the Grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat” – Mark Twain
One of the largest surviving single works from the Roman empire, Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder, sings praises of the watermelon. It’s flesh could be consumed to quench thirst and the rinds could be placed on the head for a cooling effect as people made long journeys through withered grasslands. From a traveller’s companion to being a staple in Mediterranean preparations, years of selective breeding gave us the scarlet coloured watermelon, much enjoyed on a warm summer day today.
Even though the watermelon is mentioned in countless Italian and Hebrew texts as an appetising fruit, the journey to its current form is a lesson in horticulture made possible through art. The green rind in contrast with the ombré core became the subject of countless still life paintings over centuries, each painting varying in depiction. When Christie’s decided to auction Giovanni Stanchi’s 17th century painting depicting a watermelon in 2014, the appearance of the fruit triggered a discussion on the evolution of the fruit amongst several agriculturists, reaffirming that art is often the only window to our evolution.
The artwork: The painted ceramic plate is almost a frame from a Sunday kitchen on the island of Crete, and perhaps in this case, in many homes in Mumbai. Famous for his still lifes, KH Ara imbues this plate, much like his canvases, with a sense of luxury through the vibrant colours and naturalistic depictions of fresh produce. A fresh catch from the sea, a bunch of indigenous grapes, a lemon from the backyard tree, green turnips for some zing and watermelon for that sweet touch. When you catch a glimpse of the ingredients laid out, it is a guarantee that lunch will be a good balance of sweet and salty and will trigger a sombre nap. Now that’s a meal suitable for Sunday!