The Temple of Human Passions (extensive postscript)

For Dievca
A bedtime story for inquiring minds…

w8rzh4It was the 17th day of December 1865 when Leopold II became king of a small Northwestern European country called Belgium; a fierce king he remained for forty-four years, until the last day of his life which by a strange quirk of fate came to be the 17th day of December 1909.

They were prosperous years. For the king was mighty and so would his kingdom become – a modern industry, an economic power, an Empire. The turn of the century would find Belgium a flourishing country that ”must be strong, prosperous, therefore have colonies of her own, beautiful and calm”, his majesty once wrote to his brother, Prince Philippe.

He knew it well, like all rulers that came before and those who followed after him, that only coffers full of gold can bring the strength and prosperity the king desired; and to keep the gold flowing there was but one and only way: acquire for himself a Colony.

The mighty king then turned and looked south, saw the vast, uncharted lands of Africa and opportunity beckoned; it beckoned so strongly that in a few swift and expert moves he put a claim on a great, mostly unexplored piece of land all across Central Africa, declared it his and made it official by order of the colonial nations of Europe. He baptized his colony ”Congo Free State” and proceeded to ”unburden” it of its immense riches in natural resources, mainly ivory and rubber.


The more he sucked the colony dry the bigger the ruler’s coffers became until they were bursting with wealth. And thus the small European country called Belgium flourished. Swelling with pride, the king then ordered buildings of grand splendour to be built and opened wide avenues and parks with magnificent gardens which he adorned with majestic works of art for his subjects’ pleasure.

Jef Lamb3431755775_e10547aa96eaux was an esteemed sculptor from Antwerp; his is the statue of Brabo, the daring hero who cut the hand of the evil giant and freed Antwerp from his tyranny, today’s sleepless guardian of the city’s Main Square. il_570xN.564136114_3tnq

Like his daring hero, Lambeaux, was working on a brilliant but precarious idea: a huge structure that would recount humanity’s sins and pleasures carved in stone. And when he audaciously showed a life-size model at the Salon Triennial in Ghent, in 1889, it attracted such fury and uproar that the journal L’Art Moderne in 1890 described it as:

a pile of naked and contorted bodies, muscled wrestlers in delirium, an absolute and incomparable childish concept. It is at once chaotic and vague, bloated and pretentious, pompous and empty. (…) And what if, instead of paying for 300,000 francs of “passions”, the government simply bought works of art?“.


But the government being headed by none other than our mighty king who was probably impressed by its monumental size, ignored the controversy and commissioned the work. And once finished, there could be no more suitable showcase than the great Brussels International Fair of 1897, expected to attract millions of visitors. The king’s new trophy would bedazzle the world.

The prestigious event would take place in two main sites: in the west, the Cinquantenaire Park; already home to some massive iron, glass and stone structures raised by order of the king, symbols of his economic and industrial power. And, in the east, Tervuren, a small Flemish village which would be the showcase of the King’s most precious trophy, the Congo Free State. Thus Tervuren became the host of a brand new Palace of the Colonies (there was only one colony but the king was thinking far ahead) surrounded by gardens and lakes in a beautiful big park, bigger than the eye could reach. The king then had the two sites connected with a wide avenue and a tram line passing through the outskirts of the old Sonian forest.


The ”Human Passions” would be shown in the Cinquantenaire Park. While Lambeaux was chipping away the sins of mankind on 17 blocks of pure white Carrara marble, the king commanded a pavillion that would protect and showcase his creation. And Alphonse Balat, principal architect to the throne, knew precisely who should design it: his bright young pupil Victor Horta was about to be granted his first public commission.

Horta imagined a pavillion with an open facade where the relief would be visible to passers-by behind the columns. Lambeaux, weary perhaps of peoples’ reactions, wanted it concealed between four walls. The two men disagreed. They argued and argued until they spoke to each other no longer. There was no inauguration that year at the Brussels Fair of 1897.

It took place two years later, on 1 October 1899. At first it seemed, the architect had prevailed – the relief was visible to people walking past. But on the third day, Lambeaux had it covered behind wooden panels and so it remained until, eventually, Horta succumbed and built a proper wall in 1909. Lambeaux did not live to see it – he had died one year earlier.

Many years went by and many lives were shuttered through hardship and war; the generation of lost innocence would no longer be shocked by the ”scandalous Human Passions” and the Temple was all but forgotten. Until one fine day in 1979, king Baudouin I of Belgium, in a generous gesture of friendship, offered the Temple as a gift to King Khaled of Saudi Arabia. It was only a complement to an earlier gift, a neighbouring larger pavillion that the Arab king transformed to what we know today as the Great Mosque of Brussels. King Khaled was planning to transform his latest asset into a museum of islamic art and a marble relief of human passions could not – and would not – remain in such a museum.

But through years of osmosis and history (and a listing decree a prudent mind with foresight had passed in 1976), pavillion and relief had become inseparable. King Khaled quickly lost interest and the Temple remained closed most of the time, until it began to fall dangerously apart and was shut down completely. It would be many months before the long overdue restoration works began and many more to finish.

The Temple of Human Passions is today sitting peacefully next to the Great Mosque of Brussels, an testament to all who care to see that art, spiritualism, faith – are passions too. And all very human.



A happy end to the tale of the Temple of Passions that eluded me for years…

* map of Congo via

The Temple of Human Passions

The monumental bas-relief of Human Passions, carved by Jef Lambeaux in 1898. It eluded me for years laying dormant inside the temple built by Victor Horta to protect and conceal it from public view. Undisturbed – with the exception of rare openings – and completely abandoned to the inevitable passage of time, prey to the occasional vandalism.

The subject of uproar and controversy, it scandalized the public opinion to such a degree, it would remain literally unseen for more than a hundred years. What could have been so shocking about human pleasures to cause such an outrage?

I was looking forward to its opening with such anticipation that my first impression was almost anti-climactic. It is a thing of beauty: a single room, mosaic tiled floor, walls in white stone and warm yellow Sienna marble. A bas-relief representing human passions curved in pure white Carrara marble, glowing under the natural light that flows from the glass roof. But I belong to a generation that lost its innocence through some blatantly turbulent times long time ago. I can no longer be *outraged* – all I feel inclined to do is embrace and admire this work that says so much about human nature.


”Human Passions” are overseen by Death, guarded on the left, by the Graces and on the right, by the Legions of Hell. Interestingly,  Christ on the cross accompanied by God the Father and the three Fates, is also depicted on the far right.

On the lower part, Motherhood, Seduction, Suicide, the Three Ages of Humanity and Murder. Toward the middle, Debauchery, Joy, Rape, War and, finally, Remorse.

Humanity is divided between the Feminine~Pleasure on the left and the Masculine~Agony on the right. They both meet in the centre with Suicide, Rape and Death.










The Temple of Human Passions had remained mostly closed ever since it was built. Renovation works began only recently and its doors opened for the first time during Heritage Days 2014, on 20 & 21 September. It can now be visited on regular opening hours, to be found on the Horta-Lambeaux Pavilion website.

Brussels, 20 September 2014


Museum Van Buuren


21Around the same time that Rudolf Koppitz was changing photography with his Motion Studies in Vienna, David Van Buuren, a Dutch Jewish banker from Gouda, Netherlands who had settled in Brussels since 1909, was working his way to becoming a prominent figure in the art world of Belgium.

Our story begins in 1922, when Van Buuren married Alice Piette from Antwerp and decided to build for them a home. He drew the plans himself with the help of his nephew and architect Johan Franco and commissioned Belgian architects Léon Govaerts and Alexis Van Vaerenbergh to build it. The construction took place between 1924-1928 on a plot of land the van Buurens purchased in Léo Errera Avenue, in one of the most affluent neighbourhoods of Brussels, the suburb of Uccle/Ukkel.

Outwardly, the villa is built entirely of red brick in an architectural style typical of the Amsterdam School. Intentionally nondescript, it gives away no hint of the stunning Art Deco interior nor of the eclectic collection of rare furniture, carpets, stained-glass, paintings and sculptures, amassed by the couple over their lifetime. It seems that the Van Buuren villa was destined to be an exhibition space by design – first for friends and family while the couple resided in (and for the last twenty years of her life, solely by Alice), later open to the public when it became a museum in 1973.

For in her will, Alice Van Buuren left the house, the art collection, the magnificent garden surrounding the property and enough capital for their upkeep, to ”The Friends of David and Alice Van Buuren”, a public institution which she had created since 1970 to ensure the establishment and preservation of this gem, so that we may all enjoy it today.




The Dining Room

Sycamore, Brazilian rosewood and Macassar ebony were used for the furniture and panelling, made to order by Belgian cabinet maker Joseph Wynants. The chairs are covered with natural horse hair, chosen by Alice Van Buuren herself. The work is so unbelievably fine I had to go back twice and touch discretely some hairs protruding from a corner of a chair, to be convinced. If I hadn’t read it in the guidebook handed by the receptionist for the duration of our visit (which is where all my notes come from), I would still go on believing the chairs were covered in a kind of wild silk fabric.

The still lifes are by Gustave van de Woestyne. His paintings dominate the walls of the ground floor and staircase, since Van Buuren was the artist’s patron and close friend, their friendship lasting more than 30 years until van de Woestyne’s death in 1947.12

The sky blue ceiling paneling between sycamore beams and the large lights in the style of the Amsterdam school, blend harmoniously and add a Japanese flair to the decor.11

The Music Room

The piano, encased in rosewood, is a collector’s item. It belonged to Erik Satie before becoming the centrepiece of the Van Buuren music room. Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, one of Alice’s friends(!), used to arrange for pianists who participated at her contest (Queen Elisabeth Competition), to play here. Celebrities from cultural, political and literary circles were joining the merry soirées, generously hosted by the Van Buurens between the two wars. Raoul Dufy, René Magritte, David Ben-Gurion, Christian Dior, Jacques Prévert and – the usual suspect – Gustave van de Woestyne were just a few names mentioned in the guidebook. The painting hanging above the piano is a van de Woestyne.9


Curtains and carpets were designed in bold colours by Jaap Gidding, just like the hand-embroidered tapestry on the piano. When designing the curves and hue palette of this carpet, Gidding was inspired by the bright colours of the Kees van Dongen’s ”The Thinker”. DSC04807i


La penseuse||The Thinker (c. 1906-1907), oil on canvas. Kees van Dongen



The cozy corner

Destined for reading beside the Labrador granite fireplace which was especially designed to the measurements of the picture that hangs above it: ”Night Seascape” (1913), by Constant Permeke. The furniture was designed by Dominique Paris after sketches by David Van Buuren. Each piece is unique.DSC04814i


Above the sofa I was delighted to discover a version of the famous ”Fall of Icarus” (circle of Peter Bruegel the Elder), painted on oak and was neither signed nor dated. It has been part of the house collection since 1953 and has been hanging in the same place ever since. Another version, painted on canvas, belongs to the collection of  the Fine Arts Museum of Brussels.  DSC04817i



On the wall beside the staircase, ”The Childrens’ Table” (1919), by Gustave van de Woestyne.DSC04819i

The Study

The large desk is the main feature in this room, the only reminder that Van Buuren was a businessman as well as a devoted art lover. It is a marvellous desk with a double top and a rounded back, its surface decorated with strips of walnut veneer in a solar motif. To protect the precious wood, a Galuchat blotter pad (leather made out of the skin of cartilaginous fish such as shark or ray), a rare and luxurious material whose origins can be traced back to 8th century Japan. The pad was designed by Dominique and made by assembling the perfect skins of the bellies of 19 white sharks.

The Hall and staircase

The Brazilian rosewood staircase is bathed in warm light coming through the stained glass work in the Amsterdam school style and the glorious glass and bronze lamp designed by Jan Eisenloeffel and clearly influenced by the Art Nouveau and Vienna Secession movement. The glasswork is by Dutch designer Jaap Gidding.DSC04820i



And then, of course, the garden! Consisting of the Art-Deco rose garden dotted with exotic trees; another large rose garden (it used to be a tennis-court) with ”pedigree” varieties where each flower bed has a precise colour; the Maze designed to evoke the labyrinth of King Minos, which looks rather simple but we still had to turn back a few times before finding the exit; the Garden of the Heart, in a shape of a big heart enclosing 12 smaller ones, Alice’s loving tribute to her late husband; and the Orchard a large, green open space.DSC04762i














Photography is allowed in the gardens only. Some images of the interior were taken before we were kindly, but firmly, reminded of the rules by the watchful ladies of the house. Because, how does one resist taking home a little keepsake of the love for history and culture that oozes out of every precious rosewood pore and transforms every day objects into works of art, as if touched by magic?

Museum Vanbuuren
41 Avenue Léo Errera
1180 Brussels

Open daily (except Tuesdays) : 14:00 – 17:30

Tickets can be sold separately for the house and gardens. Attention: cash only.

Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

Brussels, 19 October 2014

Motion Perfect

Nude, not naked. Sensual resonance, aesthetic harmony, masterful technique, composition. An idyll to the plasticity of the human figure. Ethereal. Fragile. Almost mythical. A body of work flirting with Symbolism and the Viennese Secession. An irresistible courtship.

Bewegungsstudien || Motion Studies


Bewegungsstudie || Motion Study, 1925. In front Claudia Issatschenko



Doppelakt || Two Nudes (Russian Dancers), 1925



Bewegungsstudie || Motion Study, 1925/1928


Bildhauer mit modell

Bildhauer mit Modell || Sculptor and Model, c. 1925



Bewegungsstudie || Motion Study, 1925



Composition, 1925


Im Schosse der natur

Im Schosse der Natur || In the Bosom of Nature, 1923



Composition, 1925



Figurenstudie || Group of Figures, c. 1927. On the right, Anna and Liselotte Koppitz

Der Steinwerfer

Der Steinwerfer || The Stone Thrower, 1923 (self portrait)


Aktstudie Anna

Aktstudie || Nude Study, 1923 (Anna Koppitz)



Figurengruppe || Group of Figures, c. 1923



Aktstudie || Nude Girl, c. 1927

Rudolf Koppitz (1884 – 1936)

Scanned from a postcard booklet sitting on a pile of books in front of the mantelpiece, decommissioned a long time ago, in place of a fire; the cheap print and basic scanner adding a grainy texture and a sweet aura of nostalgia.

The first photograph, ”Motion Study”, is included in the ”Masters of Light: Treasures from The Royal Photographic Society Collection”  exhibition at the London Science Museum’s Media Space gallery, until March 2015.



Candy (1968)


Candy is a naive, doe-eyed school girl with long blond hair and a luscious, tempting body who fell from the sky….


… and that’s all you need to know before going on to watch in bewildered amusement – and amazement – as Candy embarks on a journey of discovery, meets strange people, is unwittingly(?) seduced into sexy encounters by cunning men who manipulate her using all kinds of tricks; to which Candy succumbs because she is a nice girl and doesn’t want to hurt their feelings.



Based on a novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, this chaotic film directed by Christian Marquand, is an erotic parody starring Ewa Aulin, a gorgeous Swede who in 1965 had won the title of Miss Teen Sweden, at age 15. Soon after, Hollywood beckoned and a year later Ewa became Miss Teen International at a pageant held there for the first time ever, in 1966.

In 1968, the same year that Candy was released, Ewa married secretly in Mexico British director John Shadow, with whom she had a son.  Her marriage lasted until 1972.

Although she took part in other – mainly Italian – films before and after Candy, Ewa Aulin was so obviously typecast as the blond accommodating nymphet, she had to give up trying to convince the film industry she could play other roles. Eventually, she abandoned her acting career, married a builder, enrolled at university and became a teacher.

She needn’t have been disappointed; in one fell swoop she managed to play alongside such big screen moguls as Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, Ringo Starr, Charles Aznavour, James Coburn, John Houston and Walter Matthau. Not to mention the fabulous Anita Pallenberg as Nurse Bullock. How many stunning Swedish beauties with charming accents and practically no acting experience, can claim that?

Have a look:

Candy awakens in a classroom. The teacher, Mr Christian (John Astin – of the Addams family), is also her father.


Next, Candy attends a poetry recital by MacPhisto (Richard Burton), the continuously wind-blown star poet who fills up auditoriums and has every girl (and boy) at his feet but…





… once he has spotted Candy…



MacPhisto gives Candy a ride home, makes his advances but in the meantime gets so drunk he looses track of what he is doing. Not so Emmanuel, the Mexican gardener. Candy’s dad finds out. To avoid a scandal the family sends her away – to New York(!)




Viva Zapata…!


And so the trip begins, along which Candy is being chased by frenzied maenads (the gardener’s sisters who believe Candy has corrupted their brother), her father is injured by a blow to the head, they all get on a military plane and Candy nearly falls for the captain, General Smight. They make it safely to a looney hospital where the superstar neurosurgeon, Dr. Krankheit (German for sickness) is about to perform, in front of an open auditorium, a delicate operation on her father.

From here on, Candy is shown walking aimlessly on the streets of New York, where she is successively talked into taking part in a pornographic film by underground Director J. John, gets tricked by a hunchback, escapes into a truck of the fake guru Grindl who shows her *the meaning of life* and sets her of in an encounter with a hermit who proves to be her father.

If halfway through the film you get completely lost, worry not, nothing’s the matter with you; you’re just under the influence of this bizarre, mystic trip, its psychedelic soundtrack and absurd characters. For this weird, hilarious, purely entertaining film is utterly and totally bonkers. So sit back and enjoy – just don’t expect any serious acting!