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Although the appearance of a phallus tree may seem strange at first, the iconographic motif appears to have been quite popular in the late medieval secular world. Phallus trees appear in various mediums, including lead pilgrimage badges, wood carvings, and perhaps most famously, in frescoes like the Massa Marattima fountain mural. While a single concrete meaning behind the phallus tree remains elusive, the image carried connotations of fertility and generation (Hoch, 2006). In other instances, phallus tree iconography poked fun at fear of male impotence. More simply, representations of a phallus tree may have been intended to be funny, especially when they appeared as parodies of images associated with popular devotion (Koldeweij, 2004). Given the monastic subjects of the Roman de la Rose’s illumination, and the raciness of the poem itself, intent to parody spiritual and courtly love may have motivated Jeanne de Montbaston to include the phallus tree and embracing couple in her marginal illustrations.
Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index ©2014. Hosted by The University of Iowa Libraries.