D. Nandi Odhiambo's new novel is "a swirling, dizzying, drama full of complex characters and high stakes."
Grondin's Nincheri inspires curiosity and renewed interest
The final line of the preface to Mélanie Grondin’s The Art and Passion of Guido Nincheri (quoted above) gives the reader a clear directive. This is how you read this book. Go out into your neighbourhood and find Nincheri’s work. Become obsessed with it. Get to know more than the work. Engage with the artist behind it. And when you’re finished with Nincheri, keep looking for your world’s hidden beauty.
Consisting predominantly of stained-glass windows and church frescoes, Guido Nincheri’s work is spread across Montreal as well as its surrounding areas. It is technically perfect, brilliantly colourful, and complex in its interpretation of the Bible and other spiritual stories, but it tends to blend into the scenery. Unless you are a religious art or stained-glass enthusiast, you probably won’t notice Nincheri’s work. It is Grondin’s mission to have you not only notice the art, but marvel at it.
Aside from celebrating the art of Nincheri, Grondin has a secondary goal: to contextualize the story of the infamous Mussolini fresco. Nincheri was often hired to decorate and design entire churches, continuing his artistic relationship with the church over several decades. One church that was particularly close to Nincheri’s heart was the Madonna della Difesa in Montreal’s Little Italy. The artist began his relationship with this church at its very inception, contributing to its design in a myriad of ways and over many years. When his patron requested he include a portrait of Mussolini in the apse fresco, Nincheri argued but eventually acquiesced. We do not know that hindsight would have changed the decision to paint Mussolini, but we do know that the portrait would forever haunt the artist. Grondin works against the narrative of Fascism in Nincheri’s life by offering context. By telling the story of the Mussolini fresco, Grondin contextualizes it in the life of the artist, describing how he agonized over it, how it landed him in an internment camp, and how it stained his memory with the mark of a Fascism he never expressed.
Inspired by Grondin’s palpable love of the work and, admittedly, by my own fascination with the Mussolini fresco, I set out to see it. I live in Little Italy, but I don’t know much about my neighbourhood’s religious history. I eat cannoli and granita at Alati-Casserta almost every weekend, but I had no idea that across from my favourite Italian bakery stands the Madonna della Difesa, home to a lifetime of Nincheri’s work, including the infamous Mussolini fresco. It was here that the somewhat dry tone of Grondin’s writing made sense. Reading her book without seeing the art can sometimes feel like a chore, like assigned reading in art history class. But taking the book on a field trip, using its lengthy descriptions, historical explanations, and Biblical stories, made my experience of Nincheri’s work rich and perhaps even a little profound. From the vantage point of a pew a few rows back from the pulpit, I saw what inspired Grondin. The Madonna della Difesa, a monolithic brick cube in Little Italy, is shockingly spacious on the inside. It is expansive and full of pure light and soothing pastels. Grondin’s book brought me into the space and guided me through the overwhelming amount of iconography that surrounded me, showing me the stories and the secrets of my neighbourhood.
The Art and Passion of Guido Nincheri is more than a story, and it’s more than a guide book. It’s an inspiration to look up, to not just absorb the pretty colours as they dance through the glass, but to truly see the art, its history, its iconography, and the artist behind it. It’s a reminder that there are oddities in unexpected places and sublime beauty all around us. The editor of the Montreal Review of Books, Mélanie Grondin is clearly connected to the Montreal arts scene. Her art/passion seems to be seeking out the forgotten souls behind this city’s plethora of art and design. I hope her future holds more in-depth looks at the artists that built Montreal.
The Art and Passion of Guido Nincheri is published by Vehicule Press. It is 236 pages, including its extensive list of places where readers can view Nincheri’s work. The book is available for $24.95.
[Photo of the interior of Madonna della Difesa: Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa]
© 2018, Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa
[Photo: Mickael A. Bandassak]
Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa is the general manager of Confabulation Montreal, an organization dedicated to the growth of the storytelling community in Canada. She is a co-founder of The Confab StoryLab, Confabulation’s education arm. Leigh has taught storytelling for the Lister Family Engaged Science Initiative at McGill University, District 3 Start-Up incubator, and Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science’s #PublishorPerish program. Leigh has produced live events for CBC Books All Told, The Intercultural Storytelling Festival of Montreal, Wildside Theatre Festival, Broad Science, the New Storytellers Conference, and Off-JFL. She has told stories for Tales from the Black, Yarn, Vanier College, Confabulation, and Phi Centre’s exhibit Lucid Realities. She is also a contributing editor for Salon .ll. of Linda Leith Publishing.