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History of Carrots

The Festoons of the Cupid and Psyche Loggia in the Villa Farnesina

Chapters in the history rooms:
 

 History Part 1 - A Brief Timeline

 History Part 2 - Neolithic to AD 200 - Origins and development

 History Part 3 - AD 200 to 1500 - From Medicine to Food

 History Part 4 - 1500 to 1700   - Evolution and Improvement in the Renaissance

 History Part 5 - 1700 to date   - Science & Enlightenment - the modern carrot evolves

 History of Carrot Colour - Explores, in some detail the theories of the road to domestication and the origin of Orange Carrots

 History in WW2 - Takes an in depth look of the role of carrots in World War Two, reviving its popularity 


It is commonly held that the orange carrot appeared in Europe in the 16th century, after development by Dutch agriculturists of a naturally found mutant.

It has been argued that the depiction of orange carrots in art works of the 16th century proves that this was their first appearance. Art works alone are not considered to be good enough evidence as the colours used are not always true to type, and artists use colour effects in arranging their subjects. So in paintings, the differences between yellow and orange roots could be due to artistic features rather than to differences between cultivars. One can probably say with certainty that orange varieties were grown and developed in the Netherlands at this time but this does not prove their origin in that locality. (Brandenberg) 

Also, well before this time, there are clearly visible orange rooted carrots appearing in an ad 512 manuscript, an 11th century document, 14th century scripts and villa wall paintings in Italy in 1517.

This page documents the images created in the Villa Farnesia, Rome. (click on image for larger image)

The images relating to the Villa Farnesina appear with kind permission of Marialba Italia and is copyright and any use is restricted by law. Any unauthorised copying or reproduction will constitute an infringement of copyright.


villa farnesia - Venus shows Psyche to Cupid - orange carrot villa farnesia - Venus, Ceres, and Juno - orange carrot

Spandrel 1 (detail below)
Venus shows Psyche to Cupid

Spandrel 3 (detail below)
Venus, Ceres, and Juno

villa farnesia - Venus shows Psyche to Cupid - orange carrot detail

villa farnesia - Venus shows Psyche to Cupid - orange carrot - detail

Orange Carrot and Parsnip (white) identified Orange Carrot and Purple Carrot

The villa of Agostino Chigi (1466-1520) is located on the west bank of the Tiber in an area of Rome known as the "rione Trastevere" where it is now known as the Villa Farnesina based on its sale to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1577. The original villa was constructed between 1505 and 1509. Born in Siena, Chigi became fabulously wealthy as financier to popes and kings. His luxurious villa built to display his wealth and prestige was decorated under the guidance of Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520) and his co-workers (Giulio Romano, Francesco Penni, and Raffaellin Del Colle).

The decorations on the ceiling of the loggia and referred to as the Loggia of Psyche are based on the heavenly adventures of Cupid and Psyche from the Metamorphoses (Golden Ass) of Apuleius, 2nd century CE. Ten illustrated episodes of the tale are located in spandrels surrounded by festoons of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, painted by Giovanni Martini da Udine (1487-1564) that include over 160 species of plants, all remarkably preserved. Based on a deprecating letter from Leonardo Sellaio to Michelangelo, Raphael's rival, dated January 1, 1518 (Florentine calendar) describing the work, it seems plausible that the work was completed by 1517.

The work is important in the history of art and botany since it records, in full colour species which existed at the time. An orange carrot appears twice, together with a white parsnip.


 

Summarised Timeline of Cultivated Carrot (documentary evidence)

Time Period

Location

Colour

Pre-900s

Afghanistan and vicinity

Purple and yellow

900s

Iran and northern Arabia

Purple, Red and yellow

1000s

Syria and North Africa

Purple, Red and yellow

1100s

Spain

Purple and yellow

1200s

Italy and China

Purple and red

1300s

France, Germany, The Netherlands

Red, Yellow & White

1400s

England

Red & white

1500's Northern Europe Orange, Yellow & Red

1600s

Japan

Purple and yellow

1600s

North America

Orange and white

1700s

Japan

Orange and Red

Sources - Rubatzsky and Banga. Also Carrot Museum's Curator research material Reference material is here.

Notes: Red was often confused with purple.  Orange carrots may have been around well before 1100 - see here. The above listing is a "best guess" as there is much conflicting evidence.

Carrots were also probably White throughout these periods, often confused with Parsnips (also white). There was (and still is!) enormous confusion when trying to sort out the individual histories of carrots and parsnips. The Latin name for the parsnip genus is thought to come from, meaning "food". This would further explain the historical confusion of the two vegetables, as well as offer a testament to how important they both were in the ancient diet.



The images and text relating to the Villa Farnesina appear with kind permission of the Purdue University, Indiana and is copyright and any use is restricted by law. Any unauthorised copying or reproduction will constitute an infringement of copyright.

Photos were obtained from Frommel (2003). Identification of species are based on analysis from Caneva (1992).

Caneva G. 1992. Il Mondo di Cerere nella Loggia di Psiche. Fratelli Palombi, Rome.

Frommel CL. 2003. The Villa Farnesina in Rome. Franco Cosimo Panini, Modena.

Purdue web site here.

Full Reference material is here.

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