There’s no question that throughout history, religion has inspired some amazing art. From beautiful African ceramics to exquisite Islamic calligraphy, you don’t have to be spiritual to appreciate creativity.
Certainly, many of these incredible works of art have roots in Catholicism, and cathedrals are great places for those who appreciate visual expression to witness this firsthand. That being said, there are limits as to what is considered appropriate for religious purposes…
Take St. Paul’s Cathedral in Liege, Belgium, for example. It once boasted a statue created by a talented artist… until the church authorities realized that it might not have had the effect they intended!
Even for those who are not actively religious, there probably isn’t any figure in the public consciousness who is a greater icon for the very notion of evil than the Devil himself. The fallen angel also known as Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, and even the Great Deceiver, the Devil has many a moniker, but the nature of his character remains the same: bad.
That being said, the story of Lucifer is an important one to Christianity. So even though Lucifer is not somebody that Christians would ever want to emulate, he’s still a popular topic in many churches, even if they have to approach the subject carefully!
For example, Liege, Belgium, is home to the absolutely gorgeous St. Paul’s Cathedral, where visitors can find one of the most iconic representations of Lucifer in the entire Christian world: Le génie du mal, or in English, The Genius of Evil.
Juan Antonio Cordero / Wikimedia Commons
This white marble sculpture by Belgian artist Guillaume Geefs depicts a chained, athletic figure covered only in a sheet draped across his legs. Despite his demonic wings, the statue still represents a sense of classical beauty.
Installed in 1848, this wasn’t the St. Paul’s Cathedral’s first statue of Lucifer. As a matter of fact, Guillaume Geefs’s own younger brother, Joseph Geefs, made his own sculpture, called The Angel of Evil, that was installed in 1842.
There are several similarities between the different sculptures by the Geefs brothers, although there’s really no getting around the fact that Joseph’s earlier version is a bit… sexier. More specifically, his parted knees are considered a tad too suggestive, and the snake around the piece’s base is decidedly more satanic.
While this sculpture was consistent with an interest in the occult and satanic ideas that were prominent during the Romantic period, the authorities from the church were, as you might expect, furious. “This devil is too sublime,” they claimed, and demanded it be replaced by a less seductive representation of Lucifer.
Hohun / Wikimedia Commons
Many noblemen who admired the piece’s exquisite design complained about the decision, but according to the Belgian press of the day, “pretty penitent girls” were finding themselves distracted by the statue when they should have been focusing on their prayers.
Still, religious authorities praised the elder Geefs’s success in conveying a classical sense of beauty while keeping this version of Satan slightly more covered up and less overt about his sexuality. Luckily, though, the original version still stands today at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, in all his unholy glory.
Michel Wal / Wikimedia Commons
Some theologians might argue that Lucifer should be depicted as a sexual figure. After all, according to scripture, he used his sexuality to seduce people into his rebellion against God. Even so, others would argue a satanic figure who’s that hot may be inappropriate in a place of worship!
It’s pretty funny that so much controversy was stirred because of a single, sexy statue. At least they still got a similarly beautiful replacement out of the deal!
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