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"I'm tired of people coming back from Europe and telling me how beautiful the churches are. We " ve forgotten what we " ve got here. " mac 1996 Between 1915 and 1973 the Italian-Canadian painter Guido Nincheri devoted his life to producing stained glass windows and frescoes for more than one hundred churches across North America. Although honoured in Montreal's three hundred and fiftieth anniversary as a builder of the city, few Canadians know of the identity of this craftsman. The purpose of this paper is to uncover the story of this unrecognized artist and evaluate the significance of his contributions to Canadian society. Born in Tuscan, in the small town of Prato, in Italy, on Sept. 29 th, 1885, Guido Nincheri was born to a wealthy textile broker, Prato, and his wife, Maria. Nincheri, inspired by his passion for the arts, decided not to maintain his father's textile company and left Prato when he was eighteen to study architectural design and art composition.
After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts in Florence, he continued to do post-graduate work from 1908 to 1912. In his years of post-graduate work he was commissioned to do several murals in the Palazzo Nanny and in the salon of Marco Vecciho. He received recognition, by these commissions, and won numerous medals in competitions for architectural design and artistic compositions. On April 21 st, 1913, Guido married his wife Giulia, in Florence.
In December of that year, Guido and Giulia decided to take their honeymoon in Argentina, only to be stranded in Boston because of the outbreak of World War One. With no way to return home Guido turned to French Canadian Montreal. In Montreal he quickly landed a job as a stage prop painter in the renowned opera house Chateau Dufresne. The opera house still stands at the corner of Berbooke St. E and Pie IX Blvd. While working at the opera house in 1926, Nincheri attempted his first fresco painting at the Chapel Secure Des Noms de Jesus et Marie and agreed to defer his fee there, for two years.
In this fresco Guido depicted one hundred and twenty well-known biblical stories. His excellent craftsmanship eventually led to him being recommended by the clergy in various parishes and he soon was being shuttled back and forth between Montreal and small towns throughout Quebec, during the 1920 's. By portraying these biblical stories through stained glass windows and frescoes, Guido Nincheri created a unique Canadian style in Roman Catholic churches throughout North America. He devised a new method of fresco painting and still used the traditional British and Italian painting styles. Drawing inspirations from pre-Raphaelite artists, Nincheri filled his works with minute details and mythological subjects. Guido would not only include biblical portraits in his frescoes but would include in his illustrations bishops, cardinals, local priests and parish images.
As his daughter in-law Elf stated, " Guido would internet his wife in the middle of preparing dinner. "Hold still. I need to do a study of your hands." Guido Nincheri used live models to portray his work and when required to paint two devils for a fresco in Saint Anne Church in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, he asked a nun to arrange a sketching session with the more mischievous boys in her class. Also in the same church he turned his own self portrait into Saint Peter when he could not find a suitable model. After the sketching of a model Guido Nincheri would prepare for the painting of the fresco. Fresco painting is highly labour intensive where pigments are dissolved in water and applied to lime plaster. Pigments become an integral part of the wall, forming a fine, transparent, vitreous layer on its surface.
Fresco painting is only suitable for dry climates and technically demanding. Guido Nincheri had to follow a certain number of steps when preparing and painting a fresco. After the initial sketching was completed, Guido had to carefully brush and dampen the wall. After the wall was thoroughly worked over, a layer of plaster containing slaked lime and inert filler such as sand or ground marble was applied. Guido would have to lay out vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines of the composition on the plastered wall with cords pulled tight and pressed hard against the plaster. The rest of the layout would have to be drawn out to enable him to make any necessary corrections.
Then the design was brushed in piece by piece to serve as a guide for the painting of the fresco. This process, was called squaring. The pigments available to the painter were limited because of the high alkaline compounds in the lime. Fresco colours included vine black, black earth, ivory black, red orchids (particularly those rich in hematite), cinnabar (which is mixed with white to give a pink flesh colour); yellow ochre, yellow earth, Naples yellow, green earth, umber, raw and burnt sienna and finally, smalt. These pigments had to be finely ground in water and could be mixed on a palette because in drying they altered in tone. A whole range of these colours would be prepared before the painting, in sufficient quantities, because one batch of colour altered in intensity and tone from another.
The colours would be kept in jars of water called mustache. While the work proceeded, the colours for each job would be taken from the jars as necessary. Once the design had been traced and the paint prepared, work could begin on the painting and could continue for several hours, depending on the climate and the season. The best time to begin painting was two or three hours after the plaster was applied, because the plaster would not yet have the chance to form a crust of calcium carbonate which would make it difficult to dissolve the pigments. If the plaster did begin to harden, the painter would spray it with water and it would last for another hour.
Unpainted plaster was removed and chipped off to provide for future painting. Any areas that could not be painted in the fresco were done later when the composition was completely finished and the plaster thoroughly dried. These included colours incompatible with the fresco and figurative motifs, that overlapped several images (lanes, festoons, ribbons, etc). Fresco painting took up a considerable amount of time and did not tolerate mistakes. Guido Nincheri would spend years on a project, some even lasting for more than a decade. This style of fresco painting was valued within the Roman Catholic community in North America because of its European heritage.
However, in the eyes of the clergy in the 1960 's, Guido Nincheri was simply a tradesman. They paid him and he painted. This perception by the clergy of his work, led to a controversy in the Florentine artist's life. In 1930 Guido was commissioned to do a fresco in Montreal's Little Italy.
Montreal, at that time, was known as the city of a hundred church bells. European artist and artisans were in high demand because of the expanding of several new Catholic parishes. One of these new parishes was Madonna Della Difesa where Guido was hired to paint, upon its ceiling, the biggest fresco project of its time. The church's committee and the Archbishop of Montreal wanted to honour the Lateran Treaty of 1929, by painting a portrait of the founder of the treaty, Belloiosuea Mussolini, in the church's main hall. Mussolini had officially established the Vatican City as a separate and sovereign state.
He also authorized Roman Catholicism as the country's only recognized religion. In return, the Papacy accepted the seizure by Italy of the Papal States in 1860 and of Rome 10 years later. Mussolini was very popular for the joining of the state of Italy and the Roman Catholic religion, but as time went on, he became affiliated with Hitler. When Canada declared war on Germany it also declared war on Italy and any of its sympathizers.
Unfortunately, Guido Nincheri was associated with Mussolini through the painting that he was forced to portray in the church of Madonna Della Difesa. His son " George recalled, how his father had been loath to paint the dictator. He kept dragging his feet and putting it off by taking on other projects. " But one evening, the parish priest, along with three church wardens, dropped by Nincheri's home for a little chat. "They threatened to tear up the contract if Father didn't paint Mussolini as ordered. ." Nincheri knew that this monument of the bald fascist leader would come back to haunt him but as an artist he couldn't afford to let the fresco be wrecked by refusing to paint Mussolini. His prediction turned out to be right and Guido Nincheri was arrested by the RCMP for being an expected fascist sympathizer. Up upon his scaffolding, while placing the finishing to...
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