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A Renaissance Man

For the week of Monday September 29, 2003

On September 29, 1885, Guido Nincheri was born in Prato, Italy. In a long and prolific career, this Italian artist had a significant impact on church decoration in Canada.

Nincheri attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, where he studied drawing, painting, architecture and decorative arts. In 1914, he came to North America, and the following year settled in Montréal. Early commissions include murals and ceiling paintings at the Château Dufresne, one of the few secular projects of Nincheri’s career, and several murals and designs for stained-glass windows at the Church of Saint-Viateur in Outremont. 

Chapel of the Immaculate Conception with frescoes by Nincheri
Chapel of the Immaculate Conception with frescoes by Nincheri
© Parks Canada / Rhona Goodspeed / 1997

Following in the tradition of Italian Renaissance artists, Nincheri was a master of many media. His stained-glass studio, Guido Nincheri Studios Ltd., opened in 1921 and produced more than 2000 windows before closing in 1997, well after his death. At the Cathédrale de L’Assomption in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Nincheri’s talent in stained-glass can be seen in the 125-window cycle depicting the Virgin Mary. Nincheri was also gifted in the art of true fresco, a method of painting murals on fresh plaster, perfected during the Italian Renaissance but virtually lost by the 20th century.

The range of Nincheri’s media can be seen at the church of Saint-Léon-de-Westmount in Montréal. Built in 1901, the church’s interior, including the architecture, stonework, stained glass and wood carving, was designed by Nincheri between 1928 and 1951. Inspired by Medieval and Renaissance art, Nincheri’s designs draw on the Bible, theology, and history. The striking frescoes, all painted by Nincheri, depict scenes of St. Leo the Great, patron of the church, and visions from the Apocalypse in an array of bright colours. Light filters into the building through richly coloured stained-glass windows illustrating scenes such as the fall of Adam and Eve, and Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem. Each element of the church’s beautiful, highly detailed decoration is integrated with the architecture, attesting to Nincheri’s artistic vision.

Glorification of Saint Leo, in the semi-dome of the apse
Glorification of Saint Leo, in the semi-dome of the apse
© Courtesy of Saint-Léon-de-Westmount
Around 1940, Nincheri moved to the United States, where his work was commissioned for several churches such as St. Anne’s in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. In Canada, he contributed to more than 50 churches, including Sainte-Amélie in Baie Comeau, Quebec, Saint Anthony’s and St. Patrick’s in Ottawa, Ontario, and Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense in Montréal, Quebec.

Saint-Léon-de-Westmount, considered by many, including Nincheri himself, to be the artist’s masterpiece, is a national historic site of Canada. Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense, closely associated with Canada’s oldest Italian community, located in Montréal, is also a national historic site of Canada. Nincheri died in 1973 and is buried in Montréal at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery National Historic Site of Canada.

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