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Painting the Human Soul

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
May 01, 1951

Orginally published in the magazine Catolicismo, Vol. 05 - May 1951 (*)

One of the most frequent tendencies in the artists whose work might be considered typical of the twentieth century is the deformation of man. Fleeing from copying reality with the form habitually seen by the human eye, they represent it with alterations aimed at manifesting its deeper aspect.

Theoretically there is nothing wrong with that.

However, it is noteworthy that when they alter how men normally appear, many of the most typically modern artists actually deform the human form almost to the point of hideousness.

Thus it is not difficult to find perfectly conical human figures in modern canvases; a tiny head, shoulders a little wider than the head, waist much broader than the shoulders, legs that appear to grow up to the ankles that are joined to literally immense feet.

Other sculptures will show necks that are not merely very large but deformed, showing in one or another point of alarmingly enlarged thyroid glands.

In a word, if some magician appeared to any normally sensible man and offered him a potion to transform his body into a typical figure of modern art, his offer would receive an energetic and immediate refusal.

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This obsession with the deformed, the ugly, or even the hideous has reached the limits of the inconceivable in certain artistic works. Look, for example, at the picture labeled "Our Image" that we publish here. It is the moral figure of the human race as a typically ultramodern artist would chose to represent it.

Nobody denies that there are terrible moral and physical deformities in the universe and that it may be licit for an artist to represent them as long as that does not give rise to an offense against morals.

However, it is an erroneous position to paint only horror. It is wrong to neither paint nor sculpt except to deform. Such artist act as if the universe were nothing but a receptacle of ignominies. This is an indisputably false and dangerous conception not only of men but the world. At the root of this tendency for the hideous is a desperate and blasphemous vision of the creation which is a work of God.

Paintings and sculptures made under the influence of that vision deform the soul. Ambiences impregnated with this state of spirit can only degrade man. They extinguishing all the movements of the intelligence and will toward a truly noble, pure and elevated ideal.

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Richelieu by Phillippe de Champaigne

We present here by way of contrast a picture representing a man in his maturity taken from among the immense number of artistic works of past centuries.

It represents much more than the physical aspect of this man, his state of spirit or his moral make up. It is Richelieu painted from three different angles by Phillippe de Champaigne.

All the qualities and defects of this grand statesman are reflected in this admirable study in which the human soul is portrayed in what is most intimate, lively and subtle. The artist does not have to resort for this end to deformations that degrade human nature itself. 

(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.

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Two Paintings, Two Mentalities, Two Doctrines

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
June 01, 1951

Orginally published in the magazine Catolicismo, Vol. 06 - June 1951 (*) 

Indulge in an exercise of fantasy, and suppose that by rewinding the thread of bygone centuries it has become possible for you to return to the time of Christ and walk into a room of the Holy Family's humble dwelling in Nazareth. 

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Imagine that you find the Virgin playing with the Child, and that both were just as Rouault depicted them in the painting on the upper right. Would such a sight fulfill your expectations? Would it correspond to what you might have hoped from the Mother of God and the Word Incarnate Himself? Would you find in those images the authentic expression of the Christian spirit and the ineffable virtues of Jesus and Mary?

Obviously not.

Therefore, whoever earnestly wants that Christian art worthily and duly reflect the spirit of the Gospel cannot be indifferent to paintings of this nature becoming widespread among the faithful. What kind of impression would people have of the Holy Family if nothing else were shown to them but paintings of this ilk? As far as it is able, Christian art has the role of an accessory to the spreading of sound doctrine. The spirit of this painting cannot be deemed proper for that end. 

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In order to illustrate these affirmations better, look at the painting by the Maitre de Moulins (fifteenth century), which also portrays the Virgin and Child, and consider how efficacious it is in helping us understand, through the senses, what the Church teaches about Jesus and Mary.


(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.


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The Christian Spirit and the Pagan Spirit Manifested in Architecture

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
July 01, 1951

Orginally published in the magazine Catolicismo, Vol. 07 - July 1951 (*)

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The United Nations is the keystone of today's world. Its buildings should, therefore, express their high function by the majesty of their lines and proportions.

Our photo shows the U.N. Secretariat building. Despite its enormous dimensions, we would hesitate to call it a palace. It is certainly immense, most expensive and overwhelming, but its lines are as commonplace as those of a matchbox; they are monotonous, uniform and harsh, like those of a prison. Its air is somber, like that of a Gestapo or KGB headquarters. Everything about this immense box of concrete, steel and glass seems calculated to make man feel like he is nothing more than an ant, a grain of sand, an atom.

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Middelburg is a small Dutch city that built its town hall in the fifteenth century. How can this building compare in size with that of the United Nations? Yet we would not hesitate to call it a palace: The nobility of its lines does not allow one to give it another name.

A mere difference in architectural style? It is said that in literature "the style is the man." In architecture, it could be said that the style is the epoch. Every style is a result of an ensemble of tendencies, ideas, aspirations and mental attitudes.

More shocking than the contrast between these two styles is the contrast between two mentalities, two epochs, two cultures: one Christian, and the other neo-pagan.

(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP. Add a comment

Spiritual Decoration vs. Materialist Decoration

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
May 01, 1952

Originally published in the magazine Catolicismo vol. 17, May 1952 (*)

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In the first picture, 1,500 representatives of the United Nations meet in the Assembly Chamber of the Luxembourg Palace built between 1615 and 1620 for Maria de Medici under the direction of Solomon de Brosse. The ambience is admirably suited to an event of such magnitude. The very natural order itself requires that places where great events take place be full of good taste, dinstinction and brilliance.

And that is what is found there. This can be seen in the woodwork, colonnade, the simple and noble lines of the tribune and table of the presidency and the solemn bearing of the grand marble figures that illuminate the ambiance with the splendor of centuries of culture and glory. One sees force, majesty, grace and wealth. In a word, everything concurs to make one judge this place worthy of a gathering of world representatives.

* * *

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Are these the brutal, crushing sinisterly cold forms of a criminal tribunal? Or is it a table for police interrogations, over which floats implicitly but heavily the threat of a concentration camp?

By no means. This is the tribune of the UN designed in accordance with a certain type of modern taste. On his feet, Andrei Gromyko, delegate of the USSR turns heavily toward the President, Percy Spender, to whom he declares that Russia will not sign the peace of San Francisco.

Such is the level to which a certain “artistic” schools have reduced modern life.

In the Luxembourg Palace, the composition of the ambience took into consideration, not only the material and technical conveniences, but mainly the spiritual ones, by satisfying everything that the human spirit might require for the acts for which the hall is destined. It is a decoration made by men who believe in an immaterial soul. The tribune in which Gromyko speaks denies everything to the soul. It completely ignores the soul. It was constructed only in function of material conveniences. In a word, it is typically materialistic.


(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.


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Two Ways of Looking at Country Life

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
September 01, 1951

Originally published in Catolicismo vol. 9, September 1951 (*)

It is six o’clock in the evening. The toil of the day has come to an end.

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The noble tranquility of the atmosphere envelops the vastitude of the fields, inviting one to repose and meditation. Nature is transfigured by a golden twilight, making everything glow with a remote and suave reflection of the inexpressible majesty of God. Faintly, in the distance, one hears the ringing of the Angelus. It is the crystalline and material voice of the Church, bidding one to pray. The two young peasants begin the prayer. Their physique manifests health and a long established habit of manual labor. While their dress is simple, in everything their bearing reveals purity, elevation, and the natural delicacy of profoundly Christian souls. Their modest social condition is, as it were, transformed and illuminated by their piety, which instills respect and sympathy. Their souls reflect the golden rays of the sun, but a sun much greater in every respect: the grace of God.

Truly, their souls’ beauty is the center of the picture. The magnificent surroundings serve as a background for the beauty of these two souls united by the Son of God.

Nothing in these peasants gives the slightest suggestion of disquietude or uneasiness. They are entirely in consonance with their means, profession and class. What other dignity, what other fortune could this couple desire?

In this painting, Millet admirably brought together the necessary elements for one to comprehend the dignity of manual work in the placid and happy ambience of truly Christian virtue.

Not always is country life so. Millet captured, in a lucky stroke of his brush, the acme of moral and material beauty. His picture has the merit of teaching men to see, scattered about in the uneventfulness of rural, everyday existence, the genuine, frequent sparklings of this Christian physiognomy of souls in an environment enlivened by the Holy Church.

Millet’s state of mind, which he communicates to whomever contemplates his masterpiece, is turned toward God and the reflections of spiritual and material beauty which He impressed upon Creation.

To be exact, only some excess of sentimentalism could be regretted if one were to make a critique of the painting from the psychological standpoint.

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Could the same praise be made of the painting by Yves Alix, “Le Maitre des Moissons,” also inspired by country life?

The author failed to perceive, feel or accept in his view of agricultural work anything that makes it worthy of being carried out by a son of God.

In this painting it is not the spirit dominating matter and ennobling it, but rather the matter penetrating the spirit and debasing it.

Manual labor has impressed upon the people a certain brutality and, as it were, wickedness. Their countenances display a state of mind which reminds one of a concentration camp. If those in the background did not seem so hardened, if they were able to cry, their tears would be of hate; their moans, were they able to moan, would be like the grating of gears. The sadness, the evil, the cacophony of the colors, shapes and souls are manifested by the manner in which the main character shouts.

One does not know whether he is making a threat or uttering a blasphemy.

Yves Alix gathered, exaggerated and distorted to the point of delirium the aspects whereby work is expiation and suffering, and the earth a place of exile; he expressed with meticulous and, so to say, enthusiastic fidelity that in the human soul which is most heinous and low, presenting the ensemble as an actual and normal aspect of the spiritual, professional and everyday life of the worker.

Millet’s work of art calls to mind a prayer, while the nightmare of Yves Alix belches forth a puff of revolution.

If God were to permit the angels to beautify the earth and life, they would go about it by making those aspects that Millet sought to observe and assemble, more abundant, more beautiful and longer lasting. If He were to allow the demons of hell to disfigure men and Creation, they would do so by forming in men’s souls, bodies, and in the appearance of things, characters and environments such as those found in the painting of Yves Alix. 



(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.

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The Uniform: A Symbol in Cloth

By James Bascom   
May 04, 2016

Does the dignity of the police officer deserve a worthy uniform?

Add a comment Read more... [The Uniform: A Symbol in Cloth]
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