A Dazzling Sculpture of Lucifer at Home in a Gothic Cathedral
In the Liège Cathedral, a representation of Lucifer in marble insinuates the radiant beauty of a fallen angel.
As a beautiful representation of Lucifer was then inadmissible, in 1848 it was discarded and replaced. Curiously, the replacement overflowed with an unusual beauty, too. Perhaps it was too much to be condemned again, so it didn’t meet the same ends as its predecessor and it remains there even today, in the Cathedral of Liege in Belgium.
Dedicated to Saint Paul, the radiant Gothic enclosure is ornamented, as is so often the case with the cathedrals of the time, with an allegorical parade of the sacred; stained glass and the figures of saints. But unlike others, at Liège is included one who stands out for his tormented beauty. The “Genius of Evil” (Le génie du mal), the title given this Luciferian representation, is from the sculptor, the Belgian, Gillaume Geefs.
We can suppose that the reason for commissioning a sculpture of Lucifer, and then to house it within a cathedral, was to take advantage of the suffering, after that abysmal fall, as a reminder to favor moderation and submission. The problem, though, is that the piece blazes with such beauty that it ends up indirectly praising desire.
A few details, clearly symbols, differentiate this Apollonian figure in marble from those who, in contrast, enjoy the favor of God. His right ankle is shackled to the ground. Near his foot, the toes of which are pointed, a bitten apple lies next to a truncated scepter – and this is capped with an astral motif, a reference to Lucifer as the “morning star.” The wings belie an animal’s anatomy, similar to those of gargoyles or bats. Finally, a pair of horns appears amidst his hair, an allusion to the physiology of Satan but that allude to traditional religious iconography in which are indicate rays or points of light.
The figure of Lucifer is a convergence of a myriad of archetypal facets. It’s a mix that includes, among other original substances, rebellion, and transgression, the profaning of the divine, the abyss, damnation, the origin of light and the beauty of mystery. As a character, he is, in essence, “dazzling.” His name means the bearer of light. The piece in Liège thus confirms, in its implacable marble and its plausible anatomy, charms that its very synthesis radiates, and which transcend creeds or morals.
*Images: Luc Viatour
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