St. Paul’s cathedral in the Belgian city of Liege houses one of the world’s most famous representations of Lucifer. “La genie du mal” or “The Genius of Evil” is a sculpture in white marble made by the Belgian artist Guillaume Geefs.
The sculpture features an athletic young man who fits the notion of beauty of classical antiquity. He is chained and nearly nude; only a piece of drapery covers his thighs, and a pair of huge and sinister bat wings adorns his back. The sculpture has often been a subject of controversy, as it depicts Lucifer as a figure of staggering beauty.
However, the Genius of Evil wasn’t the first controversial sculpture of Lucifer that was placed inside of the elaborate pulpit of St. Paul’s cathedral. Before Guillaume Geefs installed his sculpture of the Devil in 1848, his younger brother Joseph Geefs made another sculpture named “The Angel of Evil”.
“The Angel of Evil” was placed in the cathedral, but had to be removed because it generated too much controversy. Although the two versions appear strikingly similar at first glance, the sculpture made by the younger Geefs was slightly more seductive.
It also features a nearly nude young man, but his parted knees emphasize his sexuality and a snake coiled around the base of the sculpture adds a deeper satanic overtone.
The sculpture clearly represents the fascination with Satan and the occult that was prominent during the period of Romanticism, and the religious authorities of the time were enraged by its eerie beauty.
The cathedral administration proclaimed that “this devil is too sublime”, and that the sculpture had to be replaced by one that adheres to the Christian representation of Lucifer without being overtly seductive.
Many noblemen marveled at the sculpture’s exceptional design and urged the authorities to leave the statue in its place, but the Belgian press of the time reacted to this by stating that the statue would distract the “pretty penitent girls” who should have been listening to the sermons.
The new sculpture that was made by the older Geefs immediately received acclaim from the religious authorities because it kept the classical idea of beauty but discarded the overt sexuality and added a little more cloth to the fallen angel’s groin.
Although the sacred scripture of Christianity depicts Lucifer as a seductive figure who seduces and lures people with his irresistible treacherous sexuality, the original sculpture made by Joseph Geefs proved to be too seductive to be displayed in a church. The sculpture was added to the collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, where visitors from all over the world still marvel at its beauty.