Sunday, May 17, 2009

A riddle wrapped inside a conundrum

Back in April, LoS shed a bit of light on the imposing pyramid in the center of the French town of Blagnac. But in our initial investigation we forgot to mention a small but very important detail. On one of the tombstone-shaped stelae there is a quote:

"La bonheur est dans l'angle ou les sages rassemblent."

That is to say: "Happiness is in the angle where the sages gather."

What that means exactly is open to interpretation, but it's certainly evocative of the revolutionary pursuit of happiness embodied in both the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It's also quite an evident Masonic metaphor of geometry and gives a sense that a small elite can guide, that this elite can be found in a certain physical space. (Perhaps huddled in the corner of a café smoking unfiltered Gauloises, unshaven, all sporting black turtleneck sweaters!)

The author of the quote is one Jean-Jacques Lequeu, an obscure and idiosyncratic Revolutionary-era architect and artist. Lequeu is known for his fantastic architectural designs, but he also dabbled in erotic book illustration and if some self-portraits are any indication, occasional transvesticism.

James Steven Curl, in The Egyptian Revival, speaks about the Egyptianism in the arts which followed Napoleon's expeditions there. Having brought back a variety of obelisks and mummies to display in the Louvre and on the streets of Paris, Napoleon initiated a new wave of interest in that ancient culture. Unsurprisingly, as the Egyptians had and have continued to exert a fascination on the public at large and with anyone seeking to claim an ancient lineage--witness the "Egyptian" rites of Freemasonry developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example. Egypt evokes power, stability and almost supernatural architectural abilities. Why not hop on their backs?

Curl remarks: "Many of the designs of Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1825)....were Egyptianising in an overt way, for he used bogus hieroglyphs, canted and corbelled arches, and themes owing more to Piranesi than to archaeology....his work was intimately connected to Freemasonry." (p. 198)

Further on in his book, Curl writes of two drawings by Lequeu, one of the Temple of Wisdom (c. 1800): "these pronounced Egyptianesque leanings....The temple tympanum celebrates the statement that happiness, welfare or prosperity lie in the angle, quoin or corner where the wise are assembled: it is therefore unquestionably Freemasonic." (p. 219)

And you thought our interpretation of his quote was far-fetched! The Blagnac pyramid then, is both unquestionably an homage to Lequeu and to Freemasonic ideals.

The following links give some biographical details about this enigmatic architect: Another general look at the man. In German--the pictures are outstanding. In French; excellent
juxtaposition of anatomical studies of the vagina and the architectural renderings based upon them.... A not entirely sympathetic series of musing upon Lequeu. Though not specifically about Lequeu, this article gives a lot of context regarding the Egyptian revival, Freemasonry, and architecture parlante.


  1. Great article, duarde! Thank you!

  2. Duarde? What I'm I? Some kinda Latin American postal inspector alluva sudden?! :)

    But seriously, this article doesn't really do Lequeu justice. He was a pretty complex guy, his architecture extremely intricate with many levels of meaning, especially with regard to ritual space, the influence of architecture on the mind as one passes from one place to another, akin to initiatory journeys.

    The links explain it better than I could. I really urge you to check them out....especially the one on "architecture parlante" (speaking architecture)....


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