Curator’s Choice

Assumption of the Virgin

Assumption of the Virgin

Picture, Needlework
Ursuline School, Quebec
19th century
Canvas ground, silk and silk chenille, embroidery yarns, watercolor, lithography on paper
Knights of Columbus Religious Heritage Art Collection

The image depicts the Virgin Mary and events leading to her entry into heaven following her dormition. She stands aloft on a billowing cloud, accompanied and ringed by angels as she ascends. Below, four attendants (three female and one male) kneel in a landscape of flowering fields and look upward. Mary 's waist is cinched by her girdle, the last symbol of her earthly chastity and her perpetual virginity, which she lowered for Thomas, for the assurance of his faith, since he was absent when her soul ascended to heaven. The scene is flanked by palm trees and a floral surround that neatly frames the image.

The needlework is wrought on a fine, plain-weave cotton canvas in which most of the elements are worked in brightly colored silk chenille yarns. The details of the faces, wings, arms and legs of the figures are appliquéd lithographs on paper.

The picture is framed by a reverse painted églomisé glass mat with an intricate gilded fretwork design and black paint. Verre églomisé glass mounts, as part of framing, were at the height of their popularity about 1790-1835.

The Ursuline were the first order of women religious to serve in North America. Originally founded in Italy by Angela Merici, they came to Quebec, Canada (New France) in 1639, at the request of the Jesuits, with the arrival of Marie Gouyat (an Ursuline nun known as Marie de l'Incarnation) and Madame de la Peltrie and a handful of other nuns. The goal of the Ursulines in New France was to educate and evangelize young Native American girls, as well as the daughters of the colonists. Not only did they teach reading and writing, but they created an atelier of handicrafts including exquisite embroidery, lace-making, gilding and molding of wax figurines. These 17th century religious were to form the very foundations of needlework in Canada. The nuns also added local weaving materials and skills to their strong base of European design and production. These skills also helped to keep the monastery thriving. By 1640 the Ursuline sisters had begun teaching and in 1642 they added a boarding school to their convent. Over the next 100 years the nuns took in some 1,206 boarders, in addition to the others they taught.