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Guido Nincheri







This digital collection was produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital Collections Initiative, Industry Canada.


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Guido Nincheri: An Italian-Canadian Treasure

By Tessa Derksen

Guido Nincheri is arguably one of Canada’s most important artists because he contributed so significantly to our national culture.

Nincheri, a stained-glass artist and fresco painter, devoted much of his life to creating religious art. His work can be seen in over 220 churches and other secular sites across Canada and the United States. In fact, Ottawa is home to four of his beautifully decorated churches: Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ste. Theresa Church, St. Patrick’s Basilica and St. Anthony’s Church. Saint Aémlie, one of his many churches in Quebec, has 1500 square metres of frescoes, possibly one of the largest single fresco surfaces ever painted by a single man.

Guido Nincheri (1885-1973) was born in Prato, Tuscany, and studied painting, drawing and architecture in Florence for 12 years at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1914, he and his wife immigrated to Montreal, where he soon opened an art studio.

Much of Nincheri’s early work was done in frescoes, or “affresco” in Italian. He was instrumental in introducing “buon fresco” to North America, a fresco technique used by Michelangelo in the 16th century. Buon Fresco or “True Fresco” involves creating wall and ceiling murals with water colours on fresh lime plaster. The resulting artwork becomes an indestructible part of the wall as it is essentially “woven” into the fabric of the building. Nincheri also followed the Renaissance tradition of immortalizing the people of the community by placing them within his frescoes.

While in Montreal, Guido Nincheri learned the art of stained glass, most likely from Henri Perdriau. In time, Nincheri came to be considered one of Canada’s principal masters of stained glass. He painted more than 2000 stained-glass masterpieces in different churches across North America.

Stained glass, a major form of the decorative arts, has an intimate link with architecture. It is most often used to create a special atmosphere, such as can be found in a church, which suited Nincheri’s artistic vision. Nincheri used traditional stained-glass techniques that had remained virtually unchanged since the Gothic Period. He was known for his use of “verre plaqué,” a transparent glass covered with a thin layer of coloured glass. This technique accentuated the dramatic intensity of his compositions.

Guido Nincheri's legacy also includes the design and execution of church decorations using metalwork, wood carving, sculpture and oil painting. He also designed stage sets and museums and drew architectural plans. In a sense, Nincheri was a 20th century Renaissance man.

Over the years, Nincheri received several distinctions for his work. In 1933, Pope Pius XI appointed him Knight-Commander of the Order of Saint-Sylvester, acknowledging him as one of the great artists of the church. In 1972, Nincheri’s Italian homeland appointed him Knight of the Republic; 20 years later he was given the posthumous title of Builder of the City of Montreal. In 1997, the Department of Canadian Heritage declared Saint Léon of Westmount Church a National Historical Site.

In recent years, the Maisonneuve-Hochelaga Historical Society has been working hard to renew interest in Guido Nincheri’s art. Through their efforts, Montreal’s Chateau Dufresne Museum and St. Eustaches’ Musée des Patriotes held exhibits of Nincheri’s art. Another person working tirelessly to preserve Nincheri’s legacy is his grandson Roger Nincheri. A retired school teacher, Roger Nincheri now devotes his time to traveling across Canada and the United States photographing and cataloguing his grandfather’s work.

“My grandfather’s art and cultural legacy is too beautiful and too important to be forgotten by future generations,” says Roger Nincheri. “We must leave a testimony to this man’s contribution to Canada’s cultural history.”

“Nincheri Remembered,” Luciano Pradal: Il Postino, January 2002.

“Guido Nincheri: The ‘Canadian Michelangelo’,” Oliviana Mingarelli: Il Postino, February 2001.

“The Art of Guido Nincheri”:

“Guido Nincheri, an Italian artist in Canada,” January 2002, by Emilie Moniez: Il Postino, January 2002

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