National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 23, 1974

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The Supper at Emmaus in Quebec Sculpture

by John R. Porter

Article en français

Page  1

The Supper at Emmaus is not one of the major themes of religious sculpture in Quebec, although it presents a most interesting dramatic situation. The oldest known version is a large bas-relief (see fig. I) by Thomas Baillairgé (Quebec, 1791 -Quebec, 1859), created in 1827-1828 for the Church of Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré. It shows three people grouped around a rectangular table: Christ, in the centre of the composition, is blessing the bread, one of the disciples is shown reacting with surprise, and the other with humility.

Baillairgé's skillfully executed work earned him a visit and congratulations from Lord Dalhousie (Governor of Canada 1820-1828), and influenced several nineteenth-century sculptors, among them Louis Laurent Flavien Berlinguet (dates unknown), Louis- Thomas Berlinguet (Saint-Laurent, Montreal, 1789- Quebec, 1863) and Jean-Baptiste Côté (Quebec, 1832-Quebec 1907). The work attributed to Louis Laurent Flavien Berlinquet, sculpted in 1853-1854, disappeared from the Church of Saint-Rémi de Napier-ville over twenty years ago; an old photograph shows it as being rather naïve in character (see fig. 2), with a few innovations in the décor. The two interpretations by Louis-Thomas Berlinguet - one (fig. 3) for the parish of Saint-Pascal de Kamouraska (c. 1857), and the other (fig. 4) at the church at Baie-du-Febvre (c. 1859; now in the National Museum of Man in Ottawa) - show greater balance and more precise execution than the version in Saint-Rémi. The Supper at EnmIaus by Jean-Baptiste Côté (Quebec, 1832-Quebec, 1907), now in a private collection in Montreal, is related to the Baillairgé work only in its general composition and in the gestures of the figures (see fig. 5); the rest has been interpreted and modified by the artist's originality.

The stucco reliefs in the Church of Saint-Sauveur in Quebec City (fig. 6) and in the Cathedral at Chicoutimi (fig. 7) were done in T. Carli's workshop in Montreal during the first quarter of this century. They differ greatly from the preceding works discussed in the more classical nature of their décor and figures. This is also true of another work attributed to T. Carli's workshop, the relief on the central tympanum of the portal of the Cathedral in Saint-Hyacinthe (fig. 8) depicting the Supper at Emmaus (C. 1907).

These versions of the Supper at Emmaus vary in the degree to which the meal is portrayed as being eucharistic. The depictions by Baillairgé and Carli are strongly religious in implication, while the Berlinguet and Côté Suppers suggest a peasant meal. However, the composition and sobriety of these works give them all a formalized plastic and finally religious aspect; in each, the Christ figure appears as the centre of action, and the disciples as centres of reaction.

Although at first it seems secondary in importance, the theme of the Supper at Emmaus reveals the structural, plastic, and religious preoccupations of Quebec sculptors. Extensive research has already been done on the subject, but some aspects have yet to be examined as is suggested by the strange interpretation appearing on an altar plan (fig. 9) attributed to David Ouellet (Quebec, 1844 - Quebec, 1915), probably drawn at the end of the nineteenth century.

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