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Architecture in the MAJ Collection (theme # 13)

Mis à jour : juin 27

Theme of the month: art and architecture


The Musée d'art de Joliette’s collection comprises of many exceptional pictorial works whose subject matter highlights architecture: architectural views, interior scenes, urban scenes, and landscapes. They come from all periods and styles. The quantity of works giving a place to architecture demonstrates the important, close and long-standing relation between the two disciplines. There are so many ways to approach the theme of art and architecture that it was difficult for me to choose one path in particular. So I decided to approach three subthemes through a few favourites from the collection.


Architectural painting

I have always been amazed by the paintings of church interiors, examples of which are many in the MAJ collection. Far from an in-depth study of the subject, here are some of my finds about this pictorial genre.


Architecture has long been used as a background, serving as a setting for the main scenes in medieval painting and illumination. Inspired by the invention of linear perspective, Italian Renaissance painters largely staged architecture, which allowed them to construct and organize compositions in depth. Examples include the works of Fra Angelico (1395-1455), the Annunciations by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), or Raphael's The Marriage of the Virgin (1483-1520), among many others.


This expertise of the Italian Renaissance painters has spread throughout Europe. Notably, the Flemish painter and architect Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527-1607) contributed greatly to this work. He had an important influence on his pupil Hendrick van Steenwijk I (1550-1603), who was a pioneer in the representation of architectural interiors. It is said that he produced the first painting of a church interior in 1573, paving the way for the development of a new, independent pictorial genre during the 16th and 17th centuries in Flanders, the Netherlands, and Holland. Some even made it their specialty, among which Hendrick van Steenwick II (ca. 1580-1649), Pieter Neefs the Elder (1578-1656), and Pieter Neefs the Younger (1620-1675). The genre will spread throughout Europe and later North America.


Variants of the genre of Flemish architectural painting developed. The 18th century saw the advent of the vedute and the capricci, which were very popular in Italy, mainly in Venice. The vedute stem from purely representational and descriptive intentions expressed by a rigorous application of the rules of perspective. In opposition to vedute, capricci are architectural fantasies, i.e. imaginary landscapes that bring together buildings, archaeological ruins, and other architectural elements in fictitious and often fantastic compositions.


The MAJ also owns Interior of the Sacristy of the Redeemer, Venice attributed to Frans Vervloet (1795-1872), a magnificent work that is the result of meticulous vedutisti work and incredible attention to detail.


Attributed to Frans Vervloet, Interior of the Sacristy of the Redeemer, Venice, around 1860, oil on wood. Wilfrid Tisdell collection. Gift of the Clerics of St. Viator of Canada. 2012.177

Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay


Juan Coli, Interior of the Burgos Cathedral, 1849, oil on canvas. Wilfrid Tisdell collection. Gift of the Clerics of St. Viator of Canada. 2012.165 Photo: Musée d’art de Joliette



Architectural decoration

Art and architecture have always been intimately related. Think of all those religious and secular buildings where frescoes, paintings, and sculptures are an integral part of their architecture. Walls, colonnades, and ceilings directly support these works. For example, the churches of Florence and Rome are glorified by Italian Renaissance masterpieces, and the Pitti and Medici palaces are decorated to the last square foot. Michelangelo’s (1475-1564) Sistine Chapel ceiling in Vatican is one of the most famous examples of these architectural achievements.


The MAJ owns an extraordinary and prestigious collection of 18th century engravings: the collection Loggie di Rafaele nel Vaticano (The Lodges of Raphael in the Vatican) by the engravers Giovanni Volpato (1735-1803) and Giovanni Ottaviani (1735-1808).


This collection of engravings (1772-1777) is the first reproduction of Raphael's great frescoes in the Vatican, more than two and a half centuries after their completion. Pope Leo X had entrusted Raphael with the decoration of the lodges on the main floor of the Vatican Palace, which the artist completed in 1519. Inspired by the recent excavations in Pompeii, Raphael covered the rooms’ walls and ceilings with ornamental paintings in the antique style. The engravings were published under the initiative of Pope Clement XVI.


Giovanni Volpato, Pilaster No.6, around 1774-1775, hand-painted burin engraving. Gift of Mr. André Lépine. 1982.058. Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay



Modernity in Painting: Exploration through Architecture

One of the paths to modernity in painting in Quebec in the 1930s was through artists' interest in urban architecture, and the MAJ collection bears witness to this. Indeed, architecture then became a tool for formal and plastic research and exploration. Marc-Aurèle Fortin (1888-1970) and Adrien Hébert (1967-1967) were the great precursors of this trend. But members of the group of Jewish painters in Montreal pushed this formal exploration further. They embodied the expression of artistic modernity through innovative processes, fueled by a deep desire to be of their time and to translate their experience to painting.


Back Roofs (1936) by Jack Beder (1910-1987) perfectly conveys this idea: the city becomes a pure pictorial motif allowing the artist to play with colours, planes, and shapes. The same characteristics can be found in John Richard Fox's (1927-2008) Interior of the Carmini Church, although produced much later.



Jack Beder*, Back Roofs, 1936, oil on cardboard. Séminaire de Joliette Collection. Gift of the Clerics of St. Viator of Canada. 2012.103. Photo: Guy L’Heureux


John Richard Fox, Interior of the Carmini Church, 2004, oil on wooden panel. Gift of Sandra Paikowsky. 2012.027. Photo: François Bastien


These were only a few avenues of reflection to explore the relationship between painting and architecture, which, it should be remembered, is also an art form in its own right. There is no shortage of research topics and works that testify to this close relationship. The artworks mentioned in this article are just a few examples among hundreds of others that are part of the rich collection of the Musée d'art de Joliette.


External links

➔ The work Interior of the Sacristy of the Redeemer is shown in the MAJ’s permanent exhibition.

➔ Read or re-read our Catalogue of the Collections available in our online shop.

➔ To learn more about the engravings by Volpato and Ottaviani, I suggest reading Maria Teresa Caracciolo’s book Giovanni Volpato: The Lodges of Raphael & the Gallery of Palazzo Farnese, published by the Museum of Fine Arts of Tours in 2007.

➔ Note that it is also possible to discover our collection via our website and using the Artefacts Canada database of the Canadian Heritage Information Network.

➔ A few other artists who painted many church interiors:

- Johannes Bosboom (1817-1891)

- Juan Coli (active between 1848 and 1868 in Seville)

- Gabriel Brun-Buisson (1883-1959)

- Robert Van Vorst Sewell (1860-1924)

- Giuseppe Vasi 1710-1782)

- George Von Hoesslin (1851-1923)

This article was written by Nathalie Galego, Assistant Curator of Collections at the Musée d'art de Joliette.


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