Tag Archives: Western art history

Naughty Restorers Paint over Tree of Fertility Penises










Who would have thought it? It’s like we’re living back with the Victorians, but apparently restorers of the 13th century Italian Tree of Fertility fresco have been accused of painting over the penises and testicles hanging from the tree.

For more on the controversy visit the Telegraph’s story. Here’s what they say about the fresco itself and why it was created:

Scholars have puzzled over the meaning of the fresco, which was painted in about 1265 but only rediscovered in 2000.

Some believe it is an allegory of fertility, while others argue that it was a political manifesto illustrating models of good governance, amid rivalry between the rival Guelph and Ghibelline factions, whose feuding was linked to power struggles between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papacy in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The mural, found concealed on a wall inside one of Massa Marittima’s public fountains, consists of a tree with human penises and testicles hanging from its branches, beneath which stand eight or possibly nine female figures in medieval dress. One of the women appears to be using a pole to pull one of the penises to within reach.

According to one scholar, it is “unparalleled in the history of Western art.”

I’m not sure if the above really offers a very good explanation of why it was painted. Was the artist eating too many of the wrong sort of mushroom? Perhaps the genitals on the tree were a punishment for ones enemies? The Guelph’s and Ghibelline’s hated each other after all? It would be interesting to see a more in depth analysis somewhere of what’s going on in this picture.

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