Le génie du mal
|Location||St. Paul's Cathedral, Liège|
Le génie du mal (installed 1848) or The Genius of Evil, known informally in English as Lucifer or The Lucifer of Liège, is a religious sculpture executed in white marble by the Belgian artist Guillaume Geefs. Francophone art historians most often refer to the figure as an ange déchu, a "fallen angel." It is located within the elaborate pulpit (French chaire de vérité, "seat of truth") of St. Paul's Cathedral, Liège, and depicts a classically beautiful man in his physical prime, chained, seated, and nearly nude but for drapery gathered over his thighs, his full length ensconced within a mandorla of bat wings. Geefs' work replaces an earlier sculpture created for the space by his younger brother Joseph Geefs, which was removed from the cathedral because of its distracting allure and "unhealthy beauty."
In the late 1980s, a photograph of Le génie du mal became a focal point of Himmelsweg, an art installation by the Liège-born artist Jacques Charlier on the theme of seductive evil and the danger of obscuring the memory of the Holocaust.
Two spirits, one site
Le génie du mal is set within an open niche formed at the base of twin ornate staircases carved with gothic floral motifs. The curved railing of the semi-spiral stairs reiterates the arc of the wings, which are retracted and cup the body. The versions by Guillaume and Joseph are strikingly similar at first glance and appear inspired by the same human model. For each, the fallen angel sits on a rock, sheltered by his folded wings; his upper torso, arms, and legs are nude, his center-parted hair nape-length. The veined, membranous wings are articulated like a bat's, with a prominent thumb claw; the knobby, sinewy olecranon combines bat and human anatomy to create an illusion of realism. A broken sceptre and stripped-off crown are held at the right hip. The white-marble sculptures occupy approximately the same dimensions, delimited by the space; Guillaume's measures 165 by 77 by 65 cm, or nearly five-and-a-half feet in height, with Joseph's only slightly larger at 168.5 by 86 by 65.5 cm.
In 1837, Guillaume Geefs was put in charge of designing the elaborate pulpit for St. Paul's, the theme of which was "The Triumph of Religion over the Genius of Evil." Geefs had come to prominence creating monumental and public sculptures in honor of political figures, expressing and capitalizing on the nationalist spirit that followed Belgian independence in 1830. Techniques of realism coupled with Neoclassical restraint discipline any tendency toward Romantic heroism in these works, but Romanticism was to express itself more strongly in the Lucifer project.
From the outset, sculpture was an integral part of Geefs' pulpit design, which featured representations of the saints Peter, Paul, Hubert the first Bishop of Liège, and Lambert of Maastricht. A drawing of the pulpit by the Belgian illustrator Médard Tytgat, published in 1900, shows the front; Le génie du mal would be located at the base of the stairs on the opposite side, but the book in which the illustration appears omits mention of the work.
The statue was originally a commission for Geefs' younger brother Joseph, who completed it in 1842 and installed it the following year. It generated controversy at once and was criticized for not representing a Christian ideal. The cathedral administration declared that "this devil is too sublime." The local press intimated that the work was distracting the "pretty penitent girls" who should have been listening to the sermons.
Bishop van Bommel soon ordered the removal of L'ange du mal, and the building committee passed the commission for the pulpit sculpture to Guillaume Geefs, whose version was installed at the cathedral permanently in 1848.
Joseph exhibited his sculpture at Antwerp in 1843, along with four other works: a sculpture group called The Dream, and the individual statues St. Philomena, Faithful Love, and The Fisherman's Orphan. Known both as L'ange du mal (Angel of Evil) and Le génie du mal, the controversial piece was later received into the collections of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, where it has remained as of 2009.
Despite or because of the controversy, Joseph's work was admired at the highest levels of society. Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar, ordered a marble replica as early as 1842. The deracinated original was purchased for 3,000 florins by William II, King of the Netherlands, and was dispersed with the rest of his collection in 1850 following his death. In 1854, the artist sold a plaster cast of the statue to Baron Bernard August von Lindenau, the German statesman, astronomer, and art collector for whom the Lindenau-Museum Altenburg is named. The success of the work elevated Joseph Geefs to the top tier of sculptors in his day.
L'ange du mal is among six statues featured in a painting by Pierre Langlet, The Sculpture Hall of the Brussels Museum (Salle de sculpture du Musée de Bruxelles, 1882), along with Love and Malice by another of the six Geefs sculptor-brothers, Jean.
L'ange du mal was not uniformly admired even as a work of art. When it appeared in an 1862 international exhibition, the reviewer criticized Geefs' work as "gentle and languid" and lacking in "muscle", "a devil sick... : the sting of Satan is taken out."
'This devil is too sublime'
Other than the vespertilionid wings, the fallen angel of Joseph Geefs takes a completely human form, made manifest by its artistic near-nudity. A languid scarf skims the groin, the hips are bared, and the open thighs form an avenue that leads to shadow. The serpentine curve of waist and hip is given compositional play in relation to the wing-arcs. The torso is fit but youthful; smooth and graceful, almost androgynous. The angel's expression has been described as "serious, somber, even fierce," and the cast-down gaze directs the viewer's eye along the body and thighs to the parted knees. The most obvious satanic element in addition to the wings is the snake uncoiling across the base of the rock. L'ange du mal has been called "one of the most disturbing works of its time."
Joseph's sculptures are "striking for their perfect finish and grace, their elegant and even poetic line," but while exhibiting these qualities in abundance, L'ange du mal is exceptional within the artist's body of work for its subject matter:
|“||It compellingly illustrates the Romantic era's attraction to darkness and the abyss, and the rehabilitation of the rebellious fallen angel. The chiropteral wings, far from inspiring revulsion, form a frame that enhances the beauty of a youthful body.||”|
As a sort of "winged Adonis," the fallen angel can be seen as developing from Geefs' early nude Adonis allant à la chasse avec son chien (Adonis Goes Hunting with His Hound). The composition of L'ange du mal has been compared to that of Jean-Jacques Feuchère's small bronze Satan (1833), with Geefs' angel notably "less diabolic." The humanizing of Lucifer through nudity is characteristic also of the Italian sculptor Costantino Corti's colossal work, executed a few years after the Geefs' versions. Corti depicts his Lucifer as frontally nude, though shielded discreetly by the pinnacle of rock he straddles, and framed with the feathered wings of his angel origin.
Without a statement from the artist, it can only be surmised that Guillaume Geefs sought to address specific criticisms leveled at his brother Joseph's work. Guillaume's génie shows less flesh, and is marked more strongly by satanic iconography as neither human nor angelic. Whether Guillaume succeeded in removing the "seductive" elements may be a matter of individual perception; at any rate, his version is featured on the website "Liège sensuel," a small online exhibition of nude sculptures and paintings from Liège selected for their sensual qualities.
Guillaume shifts the direction of the fallen angel's gaze so that it leads away from the body, and his Lucifer's knees are drawn together protectively. The drapery hangs from behind the right shoulder, pools on the right side, and undulates thickly over the thighs, concealing the hips, not quite covering the navel. At the same time, the flesh that remains exposed is resolutely modeled, particularly in the upper arms, pectorals, and calves, to reveal a more defined, muscled masculinity. The uplifted right arm allows the artist to explore the patterned tensions of the serratus anterior muscles, and the gesture and the angle of the head suggest that the génie is warding off "divine chastisement."
Symbols of Lucifer
Guillaume added several details to enhance the Luciferian iconography and the theme of punishment: at the angel's feet, the dropped "forbidden fruit", an apple with bite marks, along with the broken-off tip of the sceptre, the stellar finial of which marks Lucifer as the Morning Star of classical tradition. The nails are narrow and elongated, like talons.
A pair of horns may be intended to further dehumanize the figure, while introducing another note of ambiguity. Horns are animalistic markers of the satanic or demonic, but in a parallel tradition of religious iconography, "horns" represent points of light. Gods from antiquity who personify celestial phenomena such as the Sun or stars are crowned with rays, and some depictions of Moses, the most famous being that of Michelangelo, are carved with "horns" similar to those of Geefs' Lucifer; see Horned Moses.
But the most apparent departure from L'ange du mal is the placing of Lucifer in bondage, with his right ankle and left wrist chained. In 19th-century reinterpretations of ancient Greek and Christian myths, Lucifer was often cast as a Promethean figure, drawing on a tradition that the fallen angel was chained in Hell just as the Titan had been chained and tortured on the rock by Zeus: "The same Prometheus who is taken as an analogue of the crucified Christ is regarded also as a type of Lucifer," wrote Harold Bloom in remarks on Mary Shelley's 19th-century classic Frankenstein, subtitled The Modern Prometheus. In A.H. Krappe's folkloric typology, Lucifer conforms to a type that includes Prometheus and the Germanic Loki.
Guillaume Geefs' addition of fetters, with the swagged chain replacing the sneering serpent in Joseph's version, displays the angel's defeat in pious adherence to Christian ideology. At the same time, the titanic struggle of the tortured genius to free himself from metaphorical chains was a motif of Romanticism, which took hold in Belgium in the wake of the Revolution of 1830. The Belgians had just secured their own "liberation"; over the ensuing two decades, there had been a craze for public sculpture, by the Geefs brothers and others, that celebrated the leaders of independence. The magnificently human figure of the iconic rebel who failed might have been expected to elicit a complex or ambivalent response. The suffering face of the génie, stripped of the angry hauteur of L'ange du mal, has been read as expressing remorse and despair; a tear slips from the left eye.
Sister of angels
In a 1990 essay, Belgian art historian Jacques Van Lennep discussed how the conception of Le génie du mal was influenced by Alfred de Vigny's long philosophical poem Éloa, ou La sœur des anges ("Eloa, or The Sister of Angels"), published in 1824, which explored the possibility of Lucifer's redemption through love. In this "lush and lyrical" narrative poem, Lucifer sets out to seduce the beautiful Eloa, an angel born from a tear shed by Christ at the death of Lazarus. The Satanic lover is "literally a handsome devil, physically dashing, intellectually agile, irresistibly charismatic in speech and manner": in short, a Romantic hero. "Since you are so beautiful," the naïve Eloa says, "you are no doubt good."
Lucifer declares that "I am he whom one loves and does not know," and says he weeps for the powerless and grants them the occasional reprieve of delight or oblivion. Despite Eloa's attempt to reconcile him with God, Lucifer cannot set aside his destructive pride. In the end, Eloa's love condemns her to Hell with Lucifer, and his triumph over her only brings him sadness.
In 1986, the Belgian artist Jacques Charlier made Le génie du mal a focal point of his installation Himmelsweg ("The Road to Paradise"). A framed photograph of the sculpture hangs over a slender pedestal table that is draped with a black cloth. A transparent case on the table contains three books: a Carmelite study on the subject of Satan, a scientific treatise on air, and a memorial of the Belgian Jews killed at Auschwitz. On the lower shelf of the table are shackles.
Charlier has described his use of Le génie du mal as "a Romantic image that speaks to us of seduction, evil, and the sin of forgetting." The German title of the work refers to the Nazi euphemism or "cold joke" for the access ramp that led to the gas chambers: "The Road to Paradise leads to Hell; the Fall is so close to redemption."
Alternative religious veneration
Le génie du mal sometimes appears on blogs, Internet forums, and other websites that are devoted to alternative religious practices such as Satanism and Luciferianism. A travel writer has observed that in the 21st century the sculpture
|“||is so successful that Satanists regularly come to meditate at its feet: enough to incur damnation, indeed; its excommunication is being considered.||”|
- Soo Yang Geuzaine et Alexia Creusen, "Guillaume Geefs: Le Génie du Mal (1848) à la cathédrale Saint-Paul de Liège," Vers la modernité. Le XIXe siècle au Pays de Liège, exhibition presented by the University of Liège, 5 October 2001 to 20 January 2002 online catalogue.
- Michael Palmer et al., 500 chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art belge du XVe siècle à nos jours (Éditions Racine, n.d.), p. 203 online.
- Edmond Marchal, "Étude sur la vie et les œuvres de Joseph-Charles Geefs," Annuaire de l'Académie Royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique (Brussels, 1888).
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Le génie du mal by Joseph Geefs, Fabritius online catalogue.
- "Le génie du mal" could also be translated as Evil Genius or even Evil Spirit. French génie in this sense can overlap in meaning with its English cognate "genie." The French Wikipédia article on Génie du mal deals with the stock character of the "evil genius" in fiction, film, and popular culture. Geefs may have had in mind the Kantian conception of genius, which influenced Romanticism in the 19th century.
- In French, beauté malsaine: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Le génie du mal by Joseph Geefs, Fabritius online catalogue description.
- The sculpture may be viewed in its architectural setting online, and at an angle showing the stained glass windows also online. The view with stained glass windows is preserved also at the WebCite archive.
- Soo Yang Geuzaine et Alexia Creusen, "Guillaume Geefs: Le Génie du Mal (1848) à la cathédrale Saint-Paul de Liège," Vers la modernité. Le XIXe siècle au Pays de Liège, online catalogue of an exhibition presented by the University of Liège from 5 October 2001 to 20 January 2002.
- Michael Palmer et al., 500 chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art belge du XVe siècle à nos jours (Éditions Racine, n.d.), p. 203 online.
- Geuzaine and Creusen, Vers la modernité; Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, 19th-century sculpture collection online introduction.
- Illustration by Médard Tytgat in Eloi Bartholeyns, Guillaume Geefs: sa vie et ses œuvres (Brussels: Schaerbeek, 1900), pp. 105 and 112.
- Ne rendant pas l’idée chrétienne: quoted by Vicky Chris, TrekLens.
- "Ce diable-là est trop sublime": originally quoted in L'Émancipation, 4 August 1844, as cited by Jacques Van Lennep, La Sculpture belge au xixe siècle, exposition organisée à Bruxelles du 5 octobre au 15 décembre 1990, La Générale de banque, Bruxelles (Exhibition catalogue, 1990); Geuzaine and Creusen, Vers la modernité.
- Edmond Marchal, "Étude sur la vie et les œuvres de Joseph-Charles Geefs," Annuaire de l'Académie Royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique (Brussels, 1888), p. 316.
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Fabritius catalogue, from Francisca Vandepitte, Le Romantisme en Belgique. Entre réalités, rêves et souvenirs (exposition): Bruxelles, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique; Espace Culturel ING; Musée Antoine Wiertz, 18.03–31.07.2005 (Brussels, 2005), p. 109.
- Marchal, Annuaire p. 315.
- Joseph's work is often referred to as L'ange du mal, but its formal title according to the Royal Museums' online 19th-century sculpture catalogue remains Le génie du mal. The common title L'ange du mal is used in this article to distinguish Joseph's sculpture from that of Guillaume.
- As of 2009, this copy remains in the collections of the Goethe National Museum, Weimar.
- Royal Museums, Fabritius description; Edmond Marchal, La sculpture et les chefs-d'œuvre de l'orfèvrerie belges (Brussels, 1895), p. 684 online; Michael Palmer et al., 500 chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art belge du XVe siècle à nos jours (Éditions Racine, n.d.), p. 203 online.
- "Das Lindenau-Museum Altenburg" (in German).[dead link]
- "Une légtimate admiration accueillit cette œuvre. Le plus grand succès répondit à l'attente de l'artiste et plaça celui-ci au premier rang des statuaires de ce temps": Marchal, Annuaire p. 315.
- Françoise Roberts-Jones-Popelier, Chronique d'un musée: Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles (Pierre Mardaga, 1987), p. 31 online, with the painting reproduced on p. 32. Love and Malice by Jean Geefs may be viewed online.
- J. Beavington Atkinson, "Modern Sculpture of All Nations in the Exhibition," The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the International Exhibition 1862 p. 318.
- In Dutch and German sources, the artist's name may appear as Jozef Geefs.
- For better angles on the compositional treatment of the drapery in relation to the groin, see 500 chefs and detail. More information available on the photo detail.
- 500 chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art belge p. 203. The angel's facial expression may not be apparent in the photograph that illustrates this article; view another angle.
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, 19th-century sculpture collection online introduction.
- 500 chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art belge p. 203.
- "Elle illustre en effet l’attrait de l’époque romantique pour les ténèbres, l’abîme, et sa réhabilitation de l’ange rebelle déchu. Les ailes de chéiroptère loin d’inspirer la révulsion, forme un écrin mettant en valeur la beauté d’ un corps juvénile": Vicky Chris, TrekLens, with a side view of the photo showing the exposure of the hip.
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Fabritius Le génie du mal.
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Fabritius Adonis allant à la chasse.
- Didier Rykner, review of the exhibition "Le romantisme en Belgique. Entre réalités, rêves et souvenirs," 18 March–31 July 2005 at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles, and Espace Culturel ING, La Tribune de l'Art, 13 April 2005 online. Feuchère's Satan exists in multiple copies. The 1833 original of Satan held by the Louvre is not on public display, but may be viewed online. As of 30 April 2009, an 1836 version was on public display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; it may be viewed among the museum's online collections. For the version at the Royal Museum in Brussels, search Feuchère in the museum's database.
- See article on Costantino Corti for an engraving of Lucifer.
- "Ce diable est trop sublime"; Liège sensuel.
- Geuzaine and Creusen, Vers la modernité.
- Geuzaine and Creusen, Vers la modernité.
- Harold Bloom, 1965 afterword republished in the Signet Classic 2000 edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, p. 201 online. The literature on the connection between Lucifer and Prometheus made in 19th-century art and literature is vast. See, for instance, discussion of Goethe and the Gnostic Lucifer in Steven M. Wasserstrom, Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos (Princeton University Press, 1999), p. 210ff. online. Discussion of Lucifer in Strindberg's Coram Populo in Harry Gilbert Carlson, Out of Inferno: Strindberg's Reawakening as an Artist (University of Washington Press, 1996), pp. 103–106 online. The association of Lucifer with Prometheus and other mythological figures such as Loki was a particular feature of 19th-century theosophy and the esoteric writings of H.P. Blavatsky; see The Secret Doctrine (London, 1893), vol. 2, p. 296 online. The Promethean qualities of Lucifer are a standard theme in Milton studies; see Lucifer and Prometheus for a perspective on Paradise Lost.
- Lois Bragg, Oedipus Borealis: The Aberrant Body in Old Icelandic Myth and Saga (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004), pp. 132–133, particularly point 7 online.
- Pam Morris, Realism (Routledge, 2003), p. 52 online.
- Royal Museum of Fine Arts, "Romanticism."
- Geuzine and Creusen, Vers la modernité.
- Jacques Van Lennep[dead link], La Sculpture belge au xixe siècle, exposition organisée à Bruxelles du 5 octobre au 15 décembre 1990, La Générale de banque, Bruxelles (Exhibition catalogue, 1990), as cited by Geuzaine and Creusen, Vers la modernité. Although in origin Lucifer and Satan may be distinct beings, Eloa draws on a literary tradition that conflates the two figures.
- In French, Je suis celui qu’on aime et qu’on ne connaît pas.
- Elizabeth Cheresh Allen, A Fallen Idol Is Still a God: Lermontov and the Quandaries of Cultural Transition (Stanford University Press, 2007), pp. 89–90 online; Miriam Van Scott, The Encyclopedia of Hell (Macmillan, 1999), p. 103 online.
- Nadja Vilenne galerie, Himmelsweg[dead link], with artist interview conducted by R.Vandersanden; gallery news blogged by Jean-Michel Botquin, English version[dead link], 13 March 2008. On the word Himmelweg or Himmelsweg, see Carrie Supple, From Prejudice to Genocide: Learning about the Holocaust (Trentham Books, 1993, 2nd ed.), p. 167 online; Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty: An Essay on the Literature of Political Imprisonment (W.W. Norton, 1995), p. 59 online; see also "The Cold Joke and Desecration" in Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2000), p. 341 online.
- Examples (all retrieved 4 May 2009) include PaganSpace.net; Luciferianism; Satanist Tribe.net; "Deities (and Associated Religions) commonly associated with Satan(ism)"; Satanists.
- Georges Rouzeau, "Spotlight on Liège," Via Michelin online.[dead link]
- Guillaume Geefs' Le génie du mal may be viewed online in its architectural context; also angle showing the stained glass
- Joseph Geefs, L'ange du mal (as Le génie du mal) full view; hands detail; side view
- Himmelsweg installation of Jacques Charlier, Nadja Vilenne galerie[dead link] (scroll down) and zoomed image.[dead link]