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Study of a Silver Statue by Salomon Marion
by Jean Trudel
In 1962 Mr E. E. Poole
of Edmonton presented a silver statue of the Virgin Mary (see fig.
I) to the National Gallery of Canada. This work, by the silversmith
Salomon Marion (Lachenaie, Quebec, 1782 - Montreal, 1830), is
unique, and warrants special study.
Made of carved wood painted black, the base of the statue (see fig.
2) is finished to resemble an Ionic column, suggesting an
association - conscious or otherwise - between Diana, the virgin of
Greek and Roman mythology, and the Virgin Mary. In fact, old
treatises on architecture linked the Ionic order with the design of
a temple erected in honour of Diana. The silver statue in the National Gallery corresponds quite definitely to the iconography of
the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was devoutly
followed in New France beginning in the seventeenth century.
From the age of sixteen and a half until the age of twenty-one,
Salomon Marion was apprenticed to Pierre Huguet dit Latour
(1749-1817). He began working as a silversmith around 1804, and
enjoyed a considerable religious clientele. In 1817 and 1818 he
received pay for a number of works done at Verchères, near
Montreal. Marion's silver statue appears on inventory lists there
in 1939 and in 1942; its provenance is established without a doubt
by a description and photographs preserved in the Inventory of Works
of Art of the Province of Quebec in Quebec City.
The model used by Salomon Marion, or the statue he was asked to
copy, is in Notre-Dame Church in Montreal; it depicts an Immaculate
Conception, is also made of silver, and was produced in Paris between 1712 and 1717 by an anonymous silversmith (see fig. 6). Early
in the eighteenth century it belonged to the Sulpicians in Montreal,
and at the end of that century and the beginning of the nineteenth
its influence was strong in the Montreal region (see fig. 12); at
least three churches had carved wooden copies of it. Marion's silver
statue of the Virgin is thus a continuation of the iconographic
tradition of the theme of the Immaculate Conception.
If a detailed comparison is made between Marion's Virgin and his
French model, notable differences appear. For example, the
Virgin's feet are not treated in the same way; Marion's work is not
a slavish copy of the original. A very clever technique was used in
assembling the silver plates (see fig. 13). Only one part of the
statue, the hands, is made of solid silver. Salomon Marion has
demonstrated beyond any doubt the excellence of the tradition of
silversmithing, a trade that was implanted in New France over a
hundred years before he produced this work. He has demonstrated as
well the survival of a strong feeling of loyalty to France, and to
the religion that she brought to New France.
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