Thought to be a rare example of medieval depictions of the evil dealings of witches, this extremely strange mural was discovered inside a public fountain in the Italian town of Massa Marittima in 2000. Since then, it has been restored and its cryptic symbolism examined.
Dating to the turbulent 13th century, the mural known as L’Albero della Fecondita, or “The Tree of Fecundity” shows eight female figures cavorting below a tree bearing some very unusual fruit: 25 very recognizable penises. The women appear to be fighting amongst themselves and poking at the penis tree with sticks, under a swarm of black birds.
Although the meaning is debated, one scholar has put forth that this mural shows the earliest surviving image of witchcraft in Europe, depicting a bit of Tuscan folklore later recorded in a passage from the infamous witchfinder’s guide, the Malleus Maleficarum. Translating to “Hammer of the Witches” in Latin, the Malleus Maleficarum described the secret lives of witches and cataloged their habits for purposes of easy identification, including the curiously specific description of stealing male genitalia and keeping it alive in bird’s nests.
- Matthew Ryan Smith, "Reconsidering the ‘Obscene’: The Massa Marittima Mural" Issue 2 | 2009. Queen's Journal of Visual & Material Culture