Christian Tradition and Revolutionary Agitation in Facial Expressions

July 13, 2017

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira *

The figure in our first picture instills us with sentiments of profound respect. It portrays an elderly mother who appears to have spent her life in the dignified and pious environment of the home.

Her dedication to her family, her temperance and her freshness of soul enable her to enjoy the chaste joys of domestic life while doing its chores neither sluggishly nor slothfully. In short, everything about this unassuming spinner from Sardinia inspires honest respect and sincere admiration.

  Moreover, closer scrutiny reveals that she is accustomed to the respect of those around her; and that, despite her maternal sweetness, she is sufficiently conscious of her own dignity to prevail over anyone who is lacking in respect to her.

Nevertheless, she is content with her lot. She wants neither to be, nor appear to be cultured, noble or rich. Although she accepts the social hierarchy, she is conscious of possessing the essential dignity of a human being and of a child of God redeemed by Our Lord Jesus Christ. She is, therefore, wisely content with the state of life into which she was born and placed by Providence.The painting below by David, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyons, shows a “maraîchère,” a vegetable farmer from the wetlands of France. She is a typical example of those termagants who took part in the French Revolution.

“The Woman of the People” by Jacques Louis David.

While the spinner irradiates warmth, dignity, temperance and peace, this virago excites hatred, revolt, excess and agitation. Her familiar environment is the street, not the home. Her gaze crackles from inner flames, her bitter lips have just uttered one insult, to be followed by another, and those arms seem made not to cradle children but rather to brandish and old knife or chair leg in riots.  By creating different ambiences, these two women perpetuate opposite customs and represent two irreconcilable civilizations ─ to the degree that the latter can even be called a civilization − Christian civilization and revolutionary neo-pagan civilization.


* Catolicismo Nº 118 – October 1960 . ACC # 118.



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  • Marino

    The writer must suffer from chronic indigestion–or he needs a stronger pair of eyeglasses. What I see in the face of the spinner is total resignation. She has lived her life completely differently than she had anticipated as a young woman. Now she is going through the motions expected of a worn-out nonna. She gladly embraces her impending demise.
    The eyes of the woman wearing the white bandanna reflect sadness. She has probably given birth to 11 children in fifteen years and lost 5 of them to disease and hunger, most recently her last son. Her unambitious husband is critical, abusive, and unappreciative. Hope has disappeared from her life.

    • JjSeg

      I believe the stronger glasses are missing from you, though most times the ‘lack of’ isn’t always the problem.

    • Joe Right

      Insults aren’t arguments, so I’ll refrain. Your comment on the resignation of the “nonna” is certainly on target, but I do not see demise. To me she is sweet, maternal, and pleased to have her grandchildren play in the background as she toils for love of them. Now, the French Revolutionary is obviously bitter and hateful, certainly despondent. She would raise her fist against God — and the nobility — that supposedly brought her to this fate.

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