The late Italian-Canadian religious art legend Guido Nincheri was honoured by the Canadian government at a ceremony Wednesday in Montreal’s east end.
The native of Florence, Italy, immigrated to Canada in 1915. In the decades that followed, he painted frescoes and stained glass windows for hundreds of churches in Montreal, as well as in the United States.
Representatives of all three levels of government filled Nincheri’s old Pie-IX workshop to unveil a plaque recognizing his national historic significance.
Nincheri’s grandson, Roger, attended the event, telling Global News he was ecstatic to finally see his grandfather honoured in this way.
“This is really the crowning glory of a long process,” Roger Nincheri said.
Nincheri has been called “Canada’s Michelangelo,” with his work on the interiors of Notre-Dame-de-la-Defense Church in Little Italy and St. Leon Church in Westmount regarded as some of his masterpieces.
“He was certainly a master of his craft,” said stained glass artist Cliff Oswald.
Oswald, who also attended the ceremony, spent a lot of time restoring some of Nincheri’s work.
“Guido Nincheri was certainly a man who was prolific. Because he not only did stained glass windows, he painted frescoes,” Oswald told Global News.
“As a matter of fact, I think he introduced frescoes to Montreal, because they didn’t think it was possible to do in our cold climate. But of course, coming from Italy, he knew it was,” he added.
Nincheri is being recognized by the same government that threw him in an internment camp during the Second World War, as they did with so many Italian-Canadians. But his grandson doesn’t look back in anger.
Nincheri’s work was not without controversy though. His grandson said that he had no choice but to paint a fresco of then-fascist leader Benito Mussolini on the ceiling of the Notre-Dame-de-la-Defense Church in Little Italy.
“He had his revenge though. Because when you look at the expression on Mussolini, it’s not that imperial-type look, it’s ‘What the heck am I doing here?'” he said.
The faces in Nincheri’s paintings were a distinguishing characteristic, according to stained glass artist Oswald.
“To this day, there are grandchildren who come in and say, ‘There’s my grandmother when she was 18 years old,’ and Guido had painted her as one of the angels or a saint. That’s why the faces are constantly different,” he told Global News.
Nincheri also has a park named after him on Rachel Street in the Plateau.
A government proposal to change the name to “Parc de la Ville de Quebec” was cancelled last year after outrage from the Italian community.