[Food & Feasting] Melons
(From Food and Feasting in Art [Guide to Imagery series], Silvia Malaguzzi, pp. 177-80.)
Still Life with Melon and Pears (c.1770 ), Luis Meléndez. In the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Among the many types of fruit that were known to and enjoyed by the Romans, the melon was something sophisticated and out of the ordinary for wealthier citizens and the more demanding gourmets. Apicius mentions melons in his treatise on gastronomy. They are mentioned in the Old Testament (Numb. 11:5) and were eaten regularly by the Christians. They continued to be enjoyed in the Renaissance and 17th century. In the mystic language of medieval exegesis, melons are a symbol of the earthly joys and the pleasures of the flesh. In his treatise De honesta voluptate et valetitudine, Platina claims that there is not much difference between the melons he calls pepones and those he calls malopepones, for although the latter are round and ribbed and the former are smooth and oblong, Pliny himself claims that they are much the same in appearance and flavor. According to Castore Durante, they may be difficult to digest but are thirst quenching and a diuretic. For Filippo Picinelli, they are a symbol of friendship. Because their external appearance is indicative of their inner nature.
Sources: Apicius, De re coquinaria 3.7; Pliny, Naturalis historia 19.67; Rabanus Maurus, PL 112, cols. 1026-27; Platina, De honesta voluptate et valetitudine (1474) book 1, chap. 20; Castore Durante, Il tesoro della sanita (1586, p. 199); Filippo Picinelli, Mundus Symbolicus (1687) book 10, chap 25
Meaning: Sweetness, earthly pleasures, friendship
Iconography: Melon usually appear with other fruit in still life’s from the 17th to the 19th century
Boys Eating Fruit (1645-6), Bartolomé Estéban Murillo. In Munich’s Alte Pinakothek.
[Notes on the painting]
Because wine is made from grapes, and wine is a mystic drink in Christian exegesis, these grapes may contain an allusion to the spirit and its needs.
In the mystic language of medieval exegesis, the melon symbolized earthly joys and the pleasures of the flesh.
The exchange of glances between the two boys may perhaps be interpreted as a silent dialogue about the preference for melons versus grapes as symbols of chosen lifestyles.
A sweet, tasty melon is not only a joy to eat for children and adults alike but also a symbol of friendship, because its external appearance is indicative of the quality of its flesh.