The ‘Tree of Fertility’ Mural Is Restored, But Missing Its Phallic Images

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G. Sosio / De Agostini / Getty Images

Maremma, Massa Marittima, Tuscany, Italy, where the fresco resides

Which kind of diminishes the whole fertility theme, right? (via Telegraph)

After a three-year restoration process, a 13th-century painting known as the “Tree of Fertility” has finally been unveiled, but the phalluses that once hung from the tree’s branches have vanished.

The 746-year-old fresco was discovered in 2000 on a wall inside a public fountain in southern Tuscany. The original version featured a tree festooned with 25 human penises and testicles, with several medieval women standing below, some reaching for the dangling “fruit.”

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The art experts that restored the painting are being accused of altering (read: slaughtering) the piece by scrubbing out the phallic symbols of fertility. The generous re-touch has sparked a fury among those who believe the unknown artist’s vision has been censored and destroyed.

Gabriele Galeotti, who called for a formal investigation after seeing the finished work, told UK newspaper The Telegraph that “many parts of the work seem to have been arbitrarily repainted. The authenticity of the fresco seems to have been compromised by a restoration effort that did not respect the original character of the work.”

The restorers are denying such charges, and say the multiple phalluses were changed because thick deposits of salts and calcium had encrusted the work and had to be removed. They also claim that chemicals used during the restoration may have caused the phalluses to disappear.

“The restoration in no way radically modified the original features,” Mario Scalini, the head of heritage and arts for the local province of Siena and Grosseto, told The Telegraph. “The operation was carried out with the greatest of care.”

Notably, this isn’t the first example of ancient genitalia gone astray. King Tut’s penis was officially declared missing in 1968.

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Kai Ma is a TIME contributor. Find her on Twitter at @Kai_Ma or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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