239 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

Read the most recent articles, or mail the editorial team to contribute.

Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

239 Things

The penis – or Phallus – is a symbol of fertility, good luck and the world of nature. But the Penis Tree is something completely different. In medieval murals and books one can find depictions of ‘innocent’ nuns plucking the ripe fruits of the penis tree and putting them in a basket. In another image, a man hands over his penis to the nuns, coupled with donkeys riding baskets full of penises to the monastery.

The images above originate from Roman de la Rose, a manuscript drawn by the French medieval artist Jeanne de Montbaston. The Roman de la Rose is a poem, an allegorical reflection on love with the ‘rose’ of the title symbolising female sexuality

Following this is an image of a mural in Italy where citizens are shown standing below a Penis Tree. At first glance, the Massa Maritima mural looks like any other mural of its time. But a closer look reveals that the branches carry a dozen penises. This tree has nothing to do with fertility but is a considered piece of political propaganda. It’s a message from the Guelphs telling that if the Ghibelines take the power they will bring witchcraft with them.

It appears that the penis tree is still a beloved subject. For example this overexcited woman. Touching the Penis Tree with one hand, the other hand is still searching for grip to another penis-shaped root. Is she pretending to be the nun, trying to get a grip on the ripe penis fruit to put them in a basket?