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