Namur: the Devil, guest of the Museum of Ancient Arts

Go to hell! Sometimes, nowadays, the curse still springs from an angry mouth. Or: that man, “I would rather know it to the five hundred devils!” » The French language makes here and there mention of the devil at the turn of an exclamation as he evokes, in our Judeo-Christian civilization, an emblematic figure of our collective imagination. The devil, this polymorphic creature that embodies Evil opposing Good. Who sends you to roast in hell if you give in to his tricky demonic advances. Who challenged Adam and Eve, to Christ in the desert.

Certainly, it is no longer frightening as in the Middle Ages, but what hasn’t it tormented and haunted poor credulous people.

Want to rediscover it in what it inspired, and instigated as joys and guilty entertainment?

This summer, and until August 28, the Provincial Museum of Ancient Arts (TreM.a) offers a walk as dark as it is fantastic through the iconography (paintings and engravings) of 121 works (from 39 lenders) dating from the 12th century. in the 17th century, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, at a time when artists, playing, dancing or performing on a theater stage, could be accused of having made a pact with the Evil One.

“We paint the portrait of those who are depicted as the disciples of the Devil, who have helped him in his works” , explains Gaylen Vankan, curator of the exhibition. In the Middle Ages, the traveling circus did not yet exist, but street jugglers, acrobats, jugglers, magicians who perform tricks, contortionists or tightrope walkers were seen as social parasites summoning demons. In the twisted spirit of the time, who better than the devil to delight in cunning and imposture, the better to delude and deceive pure souls? Gambling is a mortal sin. But not just any game. “Those that involve chance, such as cards and dice, are considered diabolical, because they lead to violence and alcohol abuse, unlike the game of chess which is equated with amorous conquest”, details the young 29-year-old commissioner, an aspiring researcher at the FNRS of ULiège.

Dances, just like games, and especially those that make you jump and gesticulate, “are things that the pagans invented under the tutelage of the devil” dictates a decree of the Council of Arles (524).

Hell, animal mouth

At the Museum of Ancient Arts, “Diables” which is part of a cycle of exhibitions dedicated to the theme “The circus we are” , magnificently explores, in chiaroscuro, the panoply of fallacious artifices with which the devil applies himself to put honest men to the test of temptations, physical and psychic, all synonymous with the attraction of the illicit, the sulphurous, of the forbidden and of vice and of the dark impulse. Unfortunately, at the forefront of these temptations is the eroticized and voluptuous body of women, which the medieval Church strives to see as a violent vector of the perdition of the spirit, harassing the weak flesh of innocent men. Seducers can only be intriguing devils. However, “in the Middle Ages, people behaved with the prospect, and the fear, of the Last Judgment “, underlines the curator of the expo.

A bad last judgment, by the number committed of earthly sins, throws into hell. One of the exhibited works (Follower of Hieronymus Bosch – Christ in Limbo ) represents him in the mouth or in the animal mouth, sucking in victims who vomit in pain. Well, the scene seems so atrocious that it is fun to see these damned punished.

The idea of ​​preparing one’s death well in order to earn one’s Salvation runs through the entire Middle Ages. “Diableries” is obviously neutral. The exhibition does not judge what is right or wrong. “We leave it to you alone to judge whether to succumb to it or to evade it” concludes curator Julien De Vos mischievously.

The last quote blackened on the wall of the museum, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), pastor, theologian and essayist, testifies to the uselessness of seeking to be pure. In any event, ” the heart of man reveals itself in temptation “, he prophesied.

Should we earn our heaven? Okay. We prefer to succumb to the paradise of beauty and goodness here below, and its procession of pleasures. And, at the same time, see an angel passing by.

The Devil’s Pump

Is the music evil? For the Church, it intoxicates the senses and weakens the soul. “She bathing paradise is celestial and sweet. On the other hand, the texts do not say what one can hear in hell. But the devils howl, gesticulate, make a deafening uproar”, supposes the curator of the expo. A painting depicts a bagpipe player, a popular instrument associated with death and the devil. The flute and the guiterne (medieval instrument with plucked strings) are also excluded from religious hymns because they belong to the pump of the devil.

monumental mystery

If you had to see only one manuscript, it’s this one: a play in the form of a large volume dated 1547, comprising 472 pages and illustrated with shimmering drawings. “It is exceptionally open in Namur while it is kept all the time in the reserves of the National Library of France, protected from the attacks of light”. The piece, entitled “La Passion de Valencienne”, because it was performed in Valencienne, is as versified (38.99 verses) as it is a river. “Huge machinery. It lasted 25 days (non-consecutive), mobilized around sixty actors taking on around 150 roles. The piece, interpreted in old Picard, is so long that amusing devilry punctuates it, with strong special effects, like so many breaths. To see, on the sidelines of this boring Mystery of Passion: an extract from an experimental film raising awareness of dramatic performance, as well as a digital 3D model of the huge stage.

The dialogue game

Second exceptional manuscript, illuminated on parchment: “Dialogue sur le jeu”, by François Demoulins de Rochefort. A beautiful book written at the request of the young Louise of Savoy for the King of France François 1er (born François d’Angoulême on September 12, 1494 in Cognac). “This book conveys an emotion linked to courtly love. It is in Namur and it was held in hand by one of the greatest kings of France.

behind the red curtain

The Museum of Ancient Arts and the Félicien Rops Museum echo each other. On the ground floor, next to the ticket office, a red curtain is just waiting to be drawn. It reveals a very daring color engraving by Félicien Rops, considered in his time by some to be the reincarnation of the devil himself. We kept the name. Go see. Pious soul abstain.

“Diableries”, until August 28. At TreM.a. 24 Iron Street. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The whole program (conferences, small pocket theatre, family Sundays etc.) on:

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Namur: the Devil, guest of the Museum of Ancient Arts

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