Here is a work worthy of Michelangelo in Montreal… that you won't be able to see

Here is a work worthy of Michelangelo in Montreal...that you won't be able to see

BET À DAY

The public can no longer access a historic work of art inspired by Michelangelo's technique in the Sistine Chapel since the convent where it was made became a condo building. 

“It is a historic work because it is the first fresco by Guido Nincheri that has come down to us. It's a pity that the public doesn't have access to it,” laments historian and museologist Paul Labonne.

The large-scale work entitled Le Couronnement de Marie, produced in 1925 at the interior of the ceiling of the chapel at 1420 Mont-Royal, in Outremont, represents the fifteenth of the “mysteries of the rosary. 

We see Mary, mother of Jesus, receiving a crown from the hands of her son. The figures are surrounded by angels and biblical figures.

The building was the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Holy Names-of-Jesus-and-Mary. 

For their chapel, the nuns wanted to reproduce the famous church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. 

The artist chosen to illustrate the scene, Guido Nincheri, was a painter trained in Florence already renowned for his religious work (see below). He will be nicknamed the Michelangelo of Montreal.

“My grandfather loved this work very much. He would certainly be disappointed to learn that the public does not have access to it”, saddens Roger Nincheri, grandson of the artist.

Groups of admirers

Until 2003, the chapel belonged to the congregation which allowed access to the work during religious services and by appointment. 

“We went there with groups of up to 25 people,” says Mr. Labonne, an expert from Nincheri who is now the general director of the Musée des hospitalières de l'Hôtel-Dieu.

Access was still possible when the building located at 1420 Mont-Royal, in Outremont, belonged to the University of Montreal. But when she put it up for sale in 2017, visits were suspended.

A model of 1420 Mont-Royal, in Montreal, former convent of the Sisters of the Very Holy Names of Jesus and-of-Mary.

Since then, two transactions have taken place and the current developer, who has just put 149 luxury units up for sale, wants to leave it to the co-owners to administer the chapel. 

“They will decide whether they want turn it into a theater or something else”, specifies the head of sales.

Fragile fresco

Trained in Italy at the “apse fresco” ( fresh plaster), the same technique that Michelangelo had used in Rome for the Sistine Chapel, Nincheri considered the fresco in this convent to be “experimental”, as he was the first to apply it on the continent. 

“He had given a two-year credit to the sisters, saying that he did not know how the fresco would react to the winter climate,” says Mr. Labonne. Almost a century later, the work is still in excellent condition. 

Mr. Labonne, who for a long time managed the Nincheri workshop, adjoining the Château Dufresne, in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, reminds us that a fresco is a very particular type of work.

By drying on the wall or the ceiling , the board is integrated into the structure of the building and cannot be moved.

When public works of art go private

Many works of art escape the general public by becoming private collections, deplores a representative of the tourist industry dedicated to religious heritage.< /p>

“When religious buildings are sold to be transformed into commercial or residential buildings, the works they contain become private property,” explains Sylviane Pilote, project manager at the Religious and Spiritual Tourism Association of Quebec.

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Controversy

1420 Mont-Royal has been the subject of much discussion since the University of Montreal acquired it for $15 million in 2003. So As the move of a laboratory begins there, the structure of the building proves to be failing. Facing astronomical renovation costs, the establishment puts the building up for sale, provoking the discontent of a group of professors and staff members.

“We were outraged to see our employer dispose of a building of this importance containing a major work of 20th century religious art,” recalls Daniel Turp, who was then a professor at the Faculty of Law.

The mobilization is gaining momentum and the group decides to challenge the sale in court. “Our argument was that the nuns had somehow sold the building at a friendly price to the University of Montreal, saying that they wanted their convent to be used for educational purposes. Selling it to the highest bidder a few years later seemed odious to us. »

Guido Nincheri in brief

  • Guido Nincheri was born in Prato, Italy in 1895 and moved to Montreal in 1914. He directed more than 3000 stained glass windows, paintings and frescoes during the first half of the 20th century.
  • He became famous in spite of himself for having painted Mussolini in a church in Little Italy. He was imprisoned as an enemy of Canada during the Second World War. He proclaims his innocence, claiming that he was forced by contract to paint the dictator.
  • Nincheri's most imposing fresco is in the Sainte-Amélie church in Baie-Comeau and is even larger that of Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
  • “He is an artist that the public should know, his work is so masterful”, relates his biographer, Mélanie Grondin, who has devoted approximately 10 years of research and writing, part-time.
  • He died at age 87 in 1973.