massa-albero-della-fecondita-stefanoAlbero della Fecondità

The Albero della Fecondità is a peculiar fresco found on one of the walls of the Fonti dell’Abbondanza in Massa Marittima‘s Piazza del Duomo.

The building itself is located on Via Ximenes to the left of the Duomo, as you walk out of the piazza towards the city walls. It was the original site of the city’s water supply and was built in 1265 at the request of the Massetani.

Underneath the three Gothic arches is a room that once held the city’s water fountain. The residents would come here to collect their water or wash their clothes rather than walk all the way to the streams and wells outside of the city.

During recent restorations of this stone building, builders discovered a rare and strange fresco – the Albero della Fecondità (pictured above).

My photograph isn’t fantastic, but the fresco is of a tree, except instead of leaves, this tree is growing male genitalia.Underneath the tree, there’s a group of women who appear to be eagerly collecting the falling genitals.

Now this might seem like a strange artwork to have above a communal washing trough, but pseudo-erotic paintings like this one were common in medieval history. A tree growing genitals represented fertility and was connected to Ancient Greece-Rome and the gods Dionysus and Eros.

If you consider that these fountains were primarily used by women, it’s actually not a bad place to have a fresco of this kind. It’s like killing two birds with one stone – you get your washing done and you sneak in a quick prayer for fertility at the same time. Now, that’s what I call multi-tasking!