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three pairs of lovers with space



Georges Eekhoud (1854-1927) was a Belgian novelist sympathetic to homosexuality.  The article presented here, a translation of his “Un illustre uraniste du XVIIe. siècle Jérôme Duquesnoy. Sculpteur Flamand”, was his endeavour to redeem the reputation of Jérôme Duquesnoy, a great Brabantine sculptor, who had been executed in 1654 for sodomising two boys.

It was published in the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstuffen II (Leipzig, 1900) pp. 277-287, which had a homosexual readership and hopes to win legal reforms. This context is important to understanding inaccuracies and anachronisms in Eekhoud’s account, and is indeed part of its interest.

The translation presented here with his kind permission is by Leo Adamson and originally appeared in Paidika Vol. II, No. 1 (Amsterdam, summer 1989) pp. 44-9.

For a later, more accurate and detailed account of Duquesnoy’s sexual relations with the boys, the reader is referred to Geert Debeuckelaere’s " 'Omme dieswille at Gij, Hieronymus Duquesnoy...," in Tijdschrift voor Homogeschiedenis I (1984) 5-22, translated by G.-J. Cbelens as "For the reason that thou, Hieronymus Duquesnoy ..." in the same issue of  Paidika, pp. 50-57.

A Distinguished 17th Century Uranian: Jérôme Duquesnoy: Flemish
[1] Sculptor

Jérôme Duquesnoy, born in Brussels in 1602, died in Ghent, 28 September 1654, under circumstances of exceptional atrocity, was one of the greatest sculptors of the 17th century, equal if not superior to his brother François Duquesnoy, whom vulgar critics, moved by that narrow-minded puritanism with which our own age is still cursed, feign to prefer because Jérôme admitted himself guilty of the so-called crime that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Manneken Pis by J. Duquesnoy the elder, Brussels, 1619, wrongly attributed by Eekhoud to his son François

Like his elder brother François. Jérôme was taught by their father, Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder. In 1621, at the age of just 19 years, he joined his brother François in Rome, where the latter was studying with fervent enthusiasm the great masters of the Renaissance, and there acquired that harmony of form needed to round off his robust, hearty Brabançon talent. Up until then the younger brother had been a simple apprentice in his father's workshop but, endowed with dauntless spirit and a taste for adventure, he set off full of ardour, intent on perfecting himself in his chosen profession, in which one of his immediate family had already excelled, and another promised to distinguish himself in turn. Guided by his brother’s advice, he began by making copies of the masterpieces of Antiquity and the Renaissance. But soon he felt himself strong enough to try his own hand at original work, and at carving wood, ivory and marble, at the contours of flesh, at the play of muscles and joints, at the joy of motion, at the expressiveness of feminine beauty, but most of all at the innocent brightness and chubby gaucheness of putti. He was destined to equal and even to surpass his brother François, creator of the delightful Manneken Pis in Brussels, so much so that there has often been confusion between their baby Jesuses, their little Saint John the Baptists, their angels and their cupids.

Much as they were alike in their aptitudes and artistic tastes, and even in the conception and execution of their work, just as much, or so it seemed, did they differ in mood and character. Frequent quarrels arose between them. According to some biographers whose partiality is slightly suspect for reasons which I touched upon briefly as I was beginning, Jérôme’s character was stormy, quick-tempered, envious and grasping. Legend even has it that finally, revolted by his bad morals, his brother drove him out, and that later on, to gain vengeance and also to appropriate his estate, the younger brother poisoned the elder. But there exists no evidence of such hatred nor of such a crime.

François Duquesnoy by Antoon van Dyck

Whatever the reason, the two Duquesnoys parted sometime after the visit to Rome by the celebrated Antwerp painter Anton van Dyck. Rubens' favourite disciple struck up as good a friendship with Jérôme as with François. Their concern for grace and truth was pleasing to him, and he must have valued the talent in each. The details of their friendly relations would be of the greatest interest to us; sadly we know almost nothing about van Dyck's time in Rome. It is claimed that he hastened from the Eternal City shocked by the Flemish artistic colony's triviality and villainy. Everything - not least the nobility of their art itself, not to mention van Dyck’s esteem - leads us to suppose that like the supreme aristocracy’s future portraitist, the Duquesnoys were an exception in this world of drunks, thugs and low tricksters. Indeed, van Dyck painted his two friends: he shows François Duquesnoy holding in his hand an antique faun's head, while to Jérôme he gives as attribute the contemporary bust of a beautiful child.

The same lacuna which appears in van Dyck's biography occurs at this point in what has reached us concerning the life of the younger Duquesnoy. While the elder brother remained in Rome and entered friendships with Nicolas Poussin and Algardi and even shared their house, we lose all trace of the younger up to the point where we find him in Spain, where he has been summoned by Philip IV, who granted him his favour and showered him with commissions. But, once again, we do not know what events marked his life during this Spanish period.

Our sculptor returned from Madrid around 1641, and spent nine months living in Florence at the house of a compatriot, the Brussels goldsmith André Ghysels, when in 1642 news reached him of the serious illness of François, still in Rome. Jérôme hastened to his brother's side and, as the doctors had prescribed for the invalid a more temperate climate than that of Rome, the two brothers left together to return once more to the North. But at Leghorn they were obliged to stop: the invalid had a relapse, the fever had taken hold once more with renewed violence, the illness was getting worse, and three weeks later Francesco il Fiammingo[2] succumbed in the arms of his younger brother and their friend Ghysels.

Jérôme longed to reach his home country, most of all at the time when he had lost that person who to him symbolised and embodied the best. So he busied himself gathering the deceased's works and effects and set off for the Low Countries by way of France.

He settled in Brussels, the fine city of his birth, and after some time spent in legal strife with his brother's other heirs, he obtained judgement in his favour: all the cartoons, drawings, castings, works in ivory, marble and polished wood in François collections were made over to him as “material to his profession." He set resolutely back to work and displayed not only a prodigious level of activity but also an impulsive and incomparable talent. In his brother’s passing, Jérôme had lost his only rival. From now on he is considered the most skilful sculptor of the Low Countries. The complete artist, from this point of view like his masters the Renaissance Italians, he was not only a sculptor but also a medallist, engraver, goldsmith and architect - in short, a Flemish Cellini.[3]

Ganymede and the Eagle by J. Duquesnoy the yr., ca. 1651

Overwhelmed with commissions, he worked ceaselessly, but also without diminution of his standards, never contenting himself with improvisations or rough drafts. This is not the place to draw up a catalogue of his works. Let us restrict ourselves to citing but a few: the four great statues of the holy apostles Paul, Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew in the nave of Ste. Gudula' s collegiate church in Brussels; the Christ on the cross, carved from a single piece of ivory, at the Béguine convent at Mechlin; the statues of saints commissioned by the Abbey of St. Michael of Antwerp; and finally the celebrated Ganymede and the Eagle of Jupiter, which Jérôme offered to his fellow artist, the sculptor Luc Faid‘herbe of Mechlin, and which was involved in an accident that is quite remarkable, especially considering Duquesnoy's reputation and his tragic and infamous end.

Luc Faid'herbe gave Duquesnoy’s Ganymede to his son. In 1704, the sculpture fell on the young Faid'herbe, causing his death. Those whose minds inclined to superstition and the supernatural found in this event - which was, to be sure, out of the ordinary - a parallel with Swedenborg.[4] They attributed to this Ganymede, as a masterpiece of the brilliant Uranian, a malign and expiatory influence. Had the wretched Jérôme bestowed a soul upon his creation, or at the very least a mission? Did the sculpture bear a grudge against Faid’herbe? Or was this statue of Jupiter’s beloved, having become a sentient idol, taking its opportunity to avenge upon the son of a Christian the abominable treatment inflicted upon any pagan straying into our centuries of intolerance and guilty of imitating the lord of the gods in his passion for ephebic mortals...?

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm by Jérôme Duquesnoy the yr., 1650

However, during this period, Jérôme Duquesnoy, who was at the apogee of his talent, was also reaching the summit of honours. Archduke Leopold William of Austria, at that time Governor General of the Low Countries under King Philip IV of Spain, appointed him sculptor to the court. His style was pure and correct, but its elegance and grace in no way impeded a natural electric movement; even a touch of the pleasantly morbid and vaguely sensual, which is set free in his most highly praised works, led to Jérôme Duquesnoy being known as the Albanus[5] of sculpture. This was the period when he created his suave and impish goatherd boys, and his no less gentle Children and the Young Faun.

He was prepared to rise to even greater heights by executing a masterpiece, the mausoleum of Antoine Triest, bishop of Ghent, which was erected in 1654, during the prelate’s lifetime, in the choir of St. Bavo's cathedral. The venerable bishop’s statue lifesize, half-reposing on a black marble sarcophagus, lifts its eyes to the Christ, who shows him His cross. Opposite the Redeemer appears the Virgin Mary. Six little angels or spirits, delicately treated, bearing torches or water-clocks, support the frame of the monument.

The Mausoleum of Bishop Antoon Triest, Ghent

“Jérôme  Duquesnoy arrived in Ghent on July 6th, 1654,” says Edmond de Busscher, one of the great Flemish sculptor's more interesting and impartial biographers.[6] “He set himself up with his assistants in one of the cathedral’s chapels, there to lay out and prepare the sections of this tomb, which could have been for the master the finest jewel in a new sculptural crown, had he not come to a sad end. In the last days of the month of August a strange rumour circulated in the city of Ghent: the sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy was incarcerated in the Castle, accused of misusing two young boys in the chapel where he was working.”

Nothing was truer than this imprisonment upon this accusation, the most sinister there could be in those days when bloody and ferocious penalties sanctioned the power of iniquitous prejudice. Was the accusation justified, and to what extent? Was there violence and abuse of authority? Did it really involve acts of sodomy, brutal assault on children? The indictment in this lamentable prosecution, written in Flemish, preserved in the Ghent city archives and marked Hieronimus Quesnoy, keeps reproachful and scandalised silence on these delicate but essential points. Nonetheless it falls to us now to focus upon the extent of the alleged erotic abuse for which a great man was strangled. It seems to be established that the accused had not committed any sadistic or malevolent act. What is more, there is no guarantee that he was not the victim of some cowardly revenge, some trap, some machination of those who hated and envied what he had made of himself by his independence of character, his singular and nonconformist life, and above all his genius and his glory. So many points of uncertainty, or rather so many probabilities!

At his first two interrogations, on 31 August and 1 September, he vigorously denied the transgressions with which he was charged, despite the admissions of the others involved. The latter were two of his young pupils or apprentices, not children but adolescents.[7] Duquesnoy claimed he had only received them in his workshop in order to draw a pencil study of their arms and breasts. The poor wretch did not even dare mention their hips and legs! Yet had not these parts too, like all the others, claimed his attention and his admiration as an artist, not to speak of any other ardour? One mystery continues to hang over these young favourites. Who knows whether the young figures decorating the bishop’s mausoleum do not record the features and beauty of shape of the two enigmatic models?[8]

Unable to wrest from-him any further confession, for the third interrogation on 3 September the judges (civil judges, a common court, not inquisitors) fell hack upon torture, and naturally, the investigators obtained his word of agreement - or rather, his cries of suffering - to everything they needed to send him to his death.

Ghent. Capital of the County of Flanders by Pieter van der Aa, 1729

Meanwhile, on 2 September, the artist had addressed a petition to the King of Spain and his Privy Council of the Low Countries, presided over by the Governor General. In this application Jérôme Duquesnoy, entertaining (and with good reason, one can believe) more confidence in the discernment and wisdom of a court of the elite than in the competence and fairness of an assembly of narrow-minded, vulgar bourgeois, rejected the municipal jurisdiction of Ghent under whose auspices he had been apprehended and was being interrogated. But these crusty bourgeois, whom the poor wretch had every reason to distrust, had no intention of letting go of this audacious worshipper of masculine beauty. On 10 September the Grand Bailiff and the sheriffs of Ghent sent the Privy Council an unfavourable opinion regarding their prisoner, along with extracts from the prosecution's case, and a request for the right to pronounce sentence.

On the other hand, the sculptor’s parents, friends and admirers did not abandon him in his distress, and addressed a petition in Latin directly to Archduke Leopold William, in which they pointed out the scandal which would ensue from the unfortunate artist’s condemnation, because the shameful deeds with which he was charged would have to be disclosed. They also begged the Archduke to consider the family’s honour, until then unblemished; they deplored the blot which would reflect upon a name distinguished by others in addition to this great transgressor; but foremost, and with most reason, they emphasised Jérôme Duquesnoy's high artistic worth, and the loss that sculpture would suffer in the person of this artist, whose morals might be eccentric but whose genius was rare, if he was abandoned to the mercy of the honest but unbending city magistrates of Ghent. In consequence, they implored the Archduke to rescue Jérôme from his prison in Ghent and have him brought under escort to Brussels, and there let him appear before the Privy Council. Finally they beseeched the Archduke, in the last resort, should the necessity arise, to use his absolute power to commute the death penalty to detention in perpetuity. In this manner, the petitioners concluded, even while atoning for his transgression the sculptor could continue to produce masterpieces.

Against the expectations of Jérôme and his friends, the great lords of the Privy Council proved to be just as prudish and implacable as the ignorant and ponderous merchants on the municipal bench of Ghent. They did not even delay their pronouncement so that the accused might be brought before them, but, having taken note of the dossier sent by Ghent, they hastened to reject the signatories' observations in the petition to the Archduke, and in their "Advice" to him they approved the original judges conclusions and asked that it should please him to let justice take its course.

They also declared themselves against the accused's petition, because “even though the artist has the right to decline the jurisdiction of the Ghent magistracy, there is sufficient matter in terms of justice to declare him forfeit and unworthy of that right..." They concluded, “Therefore. as it is proper and needful to subject him to exemplary chastisement in order, were it possible, to sever at the root this evil which goes creeping and worming its way through the world, it has seemed to us that Your Highness would do well to refuse the pardon that is requested and, what is more, to leave the whole matter to the discretion of the Magistrates of Ghent, where the crime and the slander were committed, and the proceedings instituted."

This ruthless opinion was approved by the Archduke in the following peremptory terms: me conformo in tutto.

Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery at Brussels by David Teniers the younger, 1650s (Prado)

Alas, Jérôme Duquesnoy was no longer under the clement and radiant sky, counsellor of tolerance, helpmeet to every passion, of magnanimous Italy! Moreover, the age was already far distant from that of the princes and popes, philosophers and artists, powerful heterodox patrons, or even protestant absolvers, accomplices of-passionate lovers of all Beauty. Long past and finished was the century of Leo X and Julius II![9] Europe had become orthodox and austere once more and especially Flanders, in thrall at the same time to Spain and to protestantism, under the government of a sanctimonious and narrow-minded prince whose greatest artistic admiration was for the grotesqueries of Teniers the Younger![10]

Nonetheless, it must be said to the glory of the true Christians of the time and the shame of the city magistrates, so-called guarantors of freedom, that the venerable Bishop Triest stood by his artist and was first to sign the petition addressed to the Governor!

But nothing would have had any effect. The rabble, the prejudice, the will of the majority, prevailed.

Following the sovereign assent, the Privy Council, at its meeting of 22 September, set out in a decree its definitive resolution, with confiscation of goods to the profit of the Crown. To start with, an inventory was made of everything Duquesnoy possessed in his sumptuous residence in the Place de Wallons in Brussels. A Brussels goldsmith even went, on 26 September, to Ghent Castle with a delegation from the Marshall of the Court, to lay claim to the mould for an image of Our Lady which Duquesnoy was to cast in silver for his Serene Highness.

The Potters' Fair at Ghent by David Teniers the yr.

Finally, on 28 September, 1654, the sentence of death was pronounced at a special assembly in the Ghent Hall of Justice. Jérôme Duquesnoy, convicted of sodomy, was condemned to be bound to a stake in the Grain Market of said city, strangled, and his body reduced to ashes. The execution took place the same day, with the usual trappings. The Bailiff of Ghent, two delegated sheriffs and the Mayor presided, along with the Prosecutor, the Clerk of Blood, various judicial functionaries and municipal secretaries. The Officer of Public Works, Gerard van Wassenburgh, with his staff, acted under the protection of the Bailiff’s halberdiers.

The Ghent historian Dierickx maintains that a pardon for Jérôme Duquesnoy arrived the day after his ordeal, with the result that the confiscation of his goods was not carried through. But Dierickx is wrong. Documents show that Duquesnoy's heirs pleaded for long afterwards for said goods to be restored to them, and for access to the arrears due to their unfortunate kinsman for Bishop Triest’s mausoleum.

A portrait of Jérôme Duquesnoy after van Dyck, engraved in chiaroscuro by the English artist Richard Brookshaw[11] in 1779, bears this inscription:

Hic ille est quondam fratri vit dispar in arte,
Felix! In felix altamen igne perit.
Non perisse, abisse scias; sua foma celebris
arte, manet: redit; nam redivimus adest!

Indeed, the tortured and tainted artist's glory shines purer and purer in spite of all reticence, prudery and pharisaic conspiracy.

The time is near when, far from considering as a work of infamy and cause of anathema the acts for which he was brought to his death, we shall see in them evidence of that perfect love of beauty which, to a judiciary of rude bourgeois like that of the Low Countries in the 17th Century, would earn the stake for the noblest artists of the Renaissance, starting with Sodoma, da Vinci and Michelangelo!


[1] The use of “Flemish” here is an anachronism.  As Eekhoud goes on to admit in describing him as “Brabançon”, Duquesnoy, born in Brussels, was a native of the duchy of Brabant and thus not Flemish, a term which before the 19th century was only applied to inhabitants of the county of Flanders.

[2] “Francesco il Fiammingo” is Italian for “François the Fleming”.

[3] The great Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) was significantly also a pederast, as is made clear in Margaret A. Gallucci’s biography of him, Benvenuto Cellini: Sexuality, Masculinity and Artistic Identity in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2003).

[4] In the 18th century, Emmanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish mystic, maintained that material objects were imbued with spirits.

[5] Francesco Albani was a highly-reputed Italian painter of the day.

[6] Bibliographies Nationales (l’ Académie de Belgique), Vol. II. [Author’s footnote]

[7] This is blatantly untrue. The trial records are clear that the boys were aged 8 and 11 (Stadsarchief van Gent, S.A.G. 213/15). In early modern, northern Europe, even an 11-year-old was far from what could reasonably be called adolescence. Either Eekhoud had not properly examined the records or he changed the facts to appeal to his readership.  The publication for which he wrote was by Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the earliest advocates of selling out Greek love in an attempt to achieve toleration for androphile homosexuals. As far as the 17th century was concerned, it made little difference: Duquesnoy would have suffered the same fate if he had been found to have pedicated men. So far were the boys from being seen as “victims”, they themselves were punished with banishment abroad for their complicity: though found to have had “no traces of noticeable malice”, they had been willing.

[8] As can be seen in the accompanying illustration, the “young figures”, the putti, are obviously far too young to have been based on boys of 8 and 11, less still “adolescents”, but Eeekhoud did not invent the tradition that these boys had been the models for them, which can be traced back to an 18th-century manuscript in the Ghent archives, Centrale Bibliotheek, Rijkunivrersiteit te Gent, Ms. 59, p. 129.

[9] Julius II (originally Giuliano della Rovere) and Leo X (originally Giovanni de’ Medici), who succeeded him as Pope in 1513, were both outstanding patrons of the arts reputed to have predilections for beautiful youths.

[10] David Teniers (1610-90), a Fleming known especially for his grotesque paintings of peasants and taverns.

[11] Despite Brookshaw’s claim, this engraving had been published three years earlier with the same inscription by Ignatius Joseph van den Berghe, also in Brussels.




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