Curator’s Choice

St. Anne-de-Beaupré

St. Anne-de-Beaupré

St. Anne-de-Beaupré

Anonymous, Québec
Carved wood with gilt and polychrome
Early 20th century; Height: 23 in.
Museum Purchase
PROVENANCE: Property from the Estate of John L. Russell, CM, undisputed pre-eminent dealer in Canadiana.

Here we see the carved kneeling figure of St. Anne-de-Beaupré in a painted and gilded structure in the form a spire. The style may be defined as “folk art,” or crafted by an artisan with little formal training, perhaps in a non-academic setting with instruction from relatives or other members of their community, or even self-taught. Perhaps the artisan felt a strong attachment to St. Anne and the famous shine, where so many miracles have been attributed to her intercession.

The very tall spire in which we find St. Anne mimics the structure of the fourth church dedicated to her in Québec, the first basilica, built in 1876 and destroyed by fire on March 29, 1922. The present basilica was consecrated by Cardinal Maurice Roy on July 4, 1976 and so the site of the shrine continues to attract thousands of faithful Americans and Canadians. Of all the churches dedicated to her, none can claim as many miracles as that of the basilica in Canada.

Devotion to St. Anne is an extension of the affection Christians have professed toward our Blessed Mother. One of the oldest churches in Jerusalem was built at the site of her birthplace. Tradition relates that it was built on the site of the home of Joachim and Anne, parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus. It was here that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born and raised. A feast in honor of St. Anne was prescribed on July 26, 1584 by Pope Gregory XIII.

Religious themes dominated early French-Canadian art during the Colonial Period. Wood sculpture became a highly specialized and respected craft in Québec, with the Catholic Church by far, the largest and in some areas, the only employer for wood sculptors and carvers in its early history.

Tradition tells us that Bishop François de Laval (1623-1708) first bishop of Québec, established the first school of arts and crafts, bringing a shipload of wood artisans from France to Québec in 1675, teaching and training a number of apprentices in New France. One of the more ambitious churches to be built in this period was the Jesuit church in Québec City (1666), modeled after the style of the Jesuit churches of Europe. In 1669 Bishop Laval laid down the groundwork for a series of other churches for the people of the countryside. Smaller and plainer in design, they nevertheless were arrayed in color and richly carved decorations.

First dependent on church commissions, carvers and cabinetmakers were also crafting items and the interiors for private homes. Among the more prominent craftsmen whose work is memorialized are the Levasseur and Baillairgé families, along with Louis Amable Quévillon (1749-1823), whose work can be seen in many well-known churches, including the carved figures of the altar of Montréal's Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Wood sculpture and many other crafts began to slowly decline by the 1830s, with the introduction of new techniques and mechanical processing. During the nineteenth century wood carving for church-related commissions all but disappeared.