On 24th October, 1645, the sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy II was bound to a stake in the Grain Market in the center of Ghent, strangled and burnt. His crime (which he strenuously denied) was sodomy, with two boys, assistants who had been working with him on what should have been his masterpiece , the mausoleum of Antoine Triest, bishop of Ghent.
From a modern perspective, the issue here is that of child abuse, but that is not the way it would have been seen in the 17th century: similar activities with girls of the same age would have passed without comment. The issue then was same-gender sexual activity. The age of his partners was of minor importance – in many similar cases, the boys were also punished for their part in the “crime”. In common with thousands of other men between the fourteenth and early nineteenth centuries, he was executed for no other reason than the allegation that his sexual life was directed at his own sex.
Most of these men are known to us only by the sketchiest of details, but with Duquesnoy we know more than with most, thanks to his family background, and his own artistic legacy. His father, also Jerome Duquesnoy, was a notable sculptor, famed today for the statue “Mannekin pis”, so beloved of tourists in Brussels. Jerome II, and his brother François , were also sculptors, like their father.François today has a definite place of his own in art history: his brother Jerome in all likelihood would have done so too. Like his brother, he served an apprenticeship in their father’s workshop, and studied alongside François in Rome, under some of the greatest sculptors of the age. Later, he attracted the attention and patronage of powerful figures, including the king of Spain, and the bishop of Ghent, before the accusations and subsequent execution abruptly ended his career.
His reputation as a sculptor was tarnished by the circumstances of his death. In common with the practice of the time, his name was removed from many of his works, and his career literally was forgotten, but he is now re-emerging from the artistic shadows as a result of work by dedicated twentieth-century scholars. :
struggling with a serpent
The execution of the Belgian sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy the Younger (1602-1654) must have served as a warning to other artists about the consequences of any “improprieties” in their lifestyles or their works. Although his reputation is today eclipsed by that of his elder brother, François, Jérôme Duquesnoy was widely regarded as a prominent sculptor during his lifetime.
…..Duquesnoy’s exuberant and appealing statues of young boys, such as Hercules Fighting with Serpents (ca 1650), attest to his sexual proclivities, which led to his downfall. In the Pietà (ca 1640), he envisioned a beautiful young angel, passionately kissing the arm of a sensual Christ.
…… he produced such famous works asGanymede and the Eagle of Jupiter (ca 1540-1545) andChildren and the Young Faun (ca 1542-1547). Many of Duquesnoy’s works depict strong, muscled male figures in the Hellenic tradition, the polished bronze often seeming to mirror the sculptor’s innate fondness for the form he was creating.
For centuries after his death, Duquesnoy’s reputation was both tarnished and repressed, and it is only recently that his works have enjoyed critical attention. A sculptor of remarkable talent, Duquesnoy’s vigorous body of work finally serves to celebrate that talent rather than stand as a reminder of the sad end to a very promising career.
Michael G. Cornelius, glbtq encycopedia