Canada’s stained glass master (IT)
by LAURA GUZZO
You may not recognize the name Guido Nincheri but you have no doubt seen his work. The artist is renowned for his stained glass creations and fresco designs, which can be seen in churches in Quebec, Ontario and the United States, most notably Madonna della Difesa in Montreal and St. Anthony of Padua in Ottawa. “When I introduce people to his art, they’re usually blown away by its aesthetics, its balance and its beauty,” says Melanie Grondin, authour of The Art and Passion of Guido Nincheri – one of the few comprehensive biographies of the artist. “Nincheri didn’t revolutionize art or create a new artistic movement, but what he did was extremely beautiful. He continued the traditions of the Italian Renaissance, the Pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau and gave us work that we normally have to go to Europe to see.”
Born in Prato outside Florence in 1885, Nincheri came from a well-to-do family. His father was a textile broker who was none too pleased when his son expressed an interest in art, as he expected him to take over the family business. “They had a falling out, which forced Nincheri to live on the streets for at least a year,” says Grondin. During that time, the artist Adolfo de Carolis took him under his wing and invited him to live in his home. De Carolis is credited with being an important influence on Nincheri’s work.
After graduating from art school in 1910, Nincheri began his fledgling career with a few art projects around Florence. He married Giulia Bandenelli in 1913, and the couple set sail for North America to celebrate their honeymoon. They would never return to live in Italy.
It was the onset of the First World War when Nincheri’s father advised him to remain in North America for his and his wife’s safety. To make ends meet, he found work in Boston, where he decorated the city’s Opera House.
In 1915, the couple moved to Montreal, where Nincheri’s career really took off. Being a devoutly Catholic city, Montreal was experiencing somewhat of a church-building boom in the early 20th century, and with his expertise in stained glass and fresco painting, Nincheri proved to be the right artist to bring religious art to life.
At the time, he was celebrated for his ability to find the perfect balance of light to illuminate his stained glass creations, as well as for his skills in what is known as buon fresco, a technique of painting frescoes on still-wet plaster.
He found patrons in two wealthy French-Canadian brothers – Marius and Oscar Dufresne – who, in 1921, lent him space to open the studio at 1832 Pie-IX Boulevard that still stands today. In return, Nincheri decorated a house that the brothers were building, Château Dufresne. “He was very prolific,” says Grondin. “He worked on more than 200 churches across Canada and New England. It’s estimated that his studio produced some 5,000 stained-glass windows.”
Among the Montreal churches that carry his works are: Église Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Saint-Léon-de- Westmount (considered to be his finest work),Church of the Madonna della Difesa, Saint-Viateur d’Outremont and Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours. He also worked on the library at the National Assembly in Quebec City.
His prolific works and natural talent earned him a knighthood from the Italian government in 1972. His devotion to the Catholic Church led Pope Pius XI to name him one of the church’s greatest artist of religious themes and to make him a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester in 1933.
Later in his life, he migrated to the United States, where he decorated churches mainly in the Rhode Island area. He died on March 1, 1973, at the age of 88. “Studying Nincheri affected my appreciation of all the work involved in his craft,” says Grondin. I know how much thought and research are behind a stained-glass window or a painting. If you compare his windows to those made by other artists who used lesser-quality glass or who didn’t fire the pieces of painted glass quite as often, you can see how different they are. Nincheri’s windows are still vibrant today while others often seem faded. I guess he’s become my reference in terms of beauty.”