Catholic art and Sovietic art: why is everybody sulking?

To sulk: verb. be silent, morose, and bad-tempered out of annoyance or disappointment.

If your ideology was really making you happy, you would smile. At least, this is the very simplistic thought I tend to have.

So then, why is everybody always so morose on catholic art and on soviet art?

  • Maybe that’s out of respect for the founders or the messiahs? Lenin and co did not suffer as much as crucified Jesus, but the historiography leveraged a lot their exiles and prison years. Maybe it is not decent to demonstrate your happiness when you follow the footsteps of a martyr.
Happy time on the Cathedral of Strasbourg.
  • Maybe that’s because the goal is so ambitious that it does not leave room for frivolity? We’ve got to work hard to achieve [insert ideology goal here].
188 - vladivostok
Hilarity of the soldiers who just won Word War II, in Vladivostok.
  • Maybe because many of the paintings and sculptures depict a moment of adversity? I can admit that, once half dead and hanging from a cross, or after 4 years suffering in assaulted Leningrad, you’re not smiling crazily.
Israel 100 Jerusalem
Nothing farcical about this scene illustrated at the Saint-Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
  • Maybe because joy is a sin? There is a Christian tradition of grieving over sins that is supposed to lead to purification. Maybe, in Sovietic terms, smiling is bourgeois.
322 - komsomolsk
These workers are too concentrated in building the society of the future, on a factory’s mosaic in Komsomolsk-na-Amure.
  • Maybe because it is propaganda? Or in marketing language, a tool for retention? After all, why would everybody keep the need for a cause if they were happy already…
Sheer folly in Buenos Aires’ Metropolitan Cathedral.
  • Maybe that’s because we should not compare ourselves with Christian nor Sovietic icons? What they depict is not a human like us, with a vivid facial expression, but a transfigured and ideal image of man (I came up with all other hypotheses, but this one, I found it here).
2012 05 Volga - 118 - Volgograd
Humans are allowed to smile after a Victory, whether they’re a child in 1945 or an old lady nowadays. It’s icons that don’t smile.

But is this a universal rule? Do they really never smile?

No. It’s been years I travel the world looking for counter-examples. And I think I have found them:


There are smiling angels on Reims cathedral. I am not quite sure why they smile there and nowhere else (that I am aware of). One of them, after being destroyed during a great fire in World War I, was restored and is now the symbol of the cathedral. I happened to be there last weekend so I took a photo of it.

Reims cathedral’s smiling angel.


It’s been quite a challenge to find her, but there she is. Celebrating the May 1945 victory and full of admiration for the brave Soviet warriors.

There is a smiling woman on this sculpture that celebrates the Soviet Union’s Victory in 1945 in Minsk, Belarus. Can you see her?
Zoom on her. Unbelievable, she really does smile and wipes off a tear of joy.

If you know more smiling examples, please share them!


2 thoughts on “Catholic art and Sovietic art: why is everybody sulking?

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