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Fine Arts

Established and future artists are welcome here!

The Ursulines made a significant contribution to the development of the arts. They encouraged painters, sculptors and silversmiths by commissioning numerous works. They also produced unquestionably high-quality painted, embroidered and gilded works themselves in the monastery workshops.

In addition, they offered quality artistic education in their schools, allowing their students to fully develop their talents. Today the Ursulines’ art collections are among the most valuable in Canada.

Altar frontal embroidered with beads

Wool, silk, linen and glass beads (?)
Ursuline workshop in Quebec City
88.60 x 172 cm

This large piece of embroidered cloth is an altar frontal, also called an antependium. This Latin term means “to hang before,” referring to the way in which it is used. Altar frontals are placed on the front of altar tables to cover or decorate them during religious ceremonies. They can be painted or embroidered, as is the case here.
The Ursulines in Quebec City are recognized for the quality of their embroidery, and the monastery in Quebec City has collections that are home to unique pieces reflecting the nuns’ exceptional expertise. Marie of the Incarnation, founder of the Ursulines in Quebec City, was a talented embroiderer herself and is said to have introduced the art of embroidery to New France. For several centuries, this art was taught to French, English and First Nations girls. It is conceivable that some of the Ursulines’ students may have created this altar frontal.
The exceptional patterns and technique used for this altar frontal may have drawn upon the beading expertise of the First Nations peoples. Although this embroidered antependium is a European reinterpretation of this traditional technique, it highlights the Ursulines’ openness to the Other.

Mother Marie of the Incarnation

Charcoal on paper
Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté
48 x 31 cm

You may have heard of Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté. The works of this Quebecois painter, born in Arthabaska, have earned a place in the collections of some of Canada’s largest museums. The preparatory drawings in these collections help us understand the artistic approach behind his works. Several of the sketches, such as this one, point to the use of a process called squaring.
Squaring is a technique used by painters to facilitate the transition from a drawing to a final painting. The artist makes perpendicular horizontal and vertical lines on the drawing to form equal squares. Then the artist draws the same number of lines on the new medium. Each square is carefully copied by referring to the model. This division into small sections helps maintain the original proportions.
We know that this drawing was intended to become a painting, although we do not have the finished painting. Some doubt still hangs over the identity of the nun in the sketch. Although it was long considered to be a depiction of Marie of the Incarnation, there remains a possibility that it is another nun wearing the official habit. Some doubt also lingers over the Ursulines’ acquisition of this drawing for their collections. The drawing may have been a gift from a nun, possibly a close relative of Suzor-Coté’s wife. However, recent research indicates that the relationship might be more distant than that. Even works made more than a century ago can still conceal their secrets!

Christ Preaching

Oil on canvas
Philippe de Champaigne
Before 1674
219 x 152 cm

This is one of the paintings collected by Abbot Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins in France in the early 19th century. Artist Philippe de Champaigne painted this work for Queen Marie de Medicis. The official French court painter, Champaigne is recognized as one of the great masters of classicism.

The First Monastery

Oil on canvas
Joseph Légaré
63 x 83 cm

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the construction of their house, the Ursulines asked painter Joseph Légaré to illustrate the convent, erected in 1642. An explanatory caption identifies the various parts of the building as well as the people depicted in the work.

The Corpus Christi Procession

Oil on canvas
Louis-Hubert Triaud
Circa 1824
75 x 107 cm

This painting is attributed to Louis-Hubert Triaud, a French painter who gave painting lessons at the Ursuline School in Quebec City. This is his most famous work, which depicts the procession passing near the Notre-Dame Market. On the left is the old Jesuit College, demolished in 1879.

The Holy Family

Oil on canvas
Circa 1690
132 x 151 cm

Per the bishop’s instructions, this painting was hung in the bell tower of the Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral-Basilica to protect the city from Walker’s fleet in 1711. Whether it was fate or proof of divine intervention, Quebec City was spared! The work was later returned to the Ursulines, who rehung it in their chapel.

Madame Davanne as Saint Ursula

Oil on canvas
18th century
66 x 52 cm

This French painting was given by Marguerite Davanne (born Germain) to her daughter Marguerite (Sister Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, 1719–1802) when she entered the Ursuline Monastery in Quebec City in 1737. After the nun’s death, overpaints were added to the portrait so that it depicted Saint Ursula, patron saint of the Ursulines.


Wood, cotton and ivory (tooth)
Artisan made
Before 1828
1 x 15 x 0.25 cm

As the only artisans to gild pieces in New France, the Ursulines quickly gained a reputation as expert gilders outside the cloister walls. They undertook gilding projects for different churches in the province of Quebec.

Increasingly consumed by their teaching obligations, the nuns closed their gilding workshop in 1828. However, they kept the tools they used in the workshop, including this beautiful burnisher, a tool made of a mounted mammal tooth that is used to burnish (polish) gold to smooth its surface and give it a brilliant shine.

Flying angels

Wood, gold and pigments
Artisan made
17th century
27 x 44 cm

Shown in flight with wings outstretched and arms extended, these sculpted angels once decorated what used to be the main tabernacle in the Ursulines’ first chapel. The presence of angels in the Ursulines’ lives illustrates the importance placed on the devotion to angels in New France, also echoing a popular trend in Europe at the time.

Although they form a pair, the two sculptures are not identical—the artist gave each angel its own facial traits, a different drape of the robes and different positions for the arms and legs.

Our Lady of Lorette

Wood, pigments, silk and gold-thread lace
Artisan made
17th century
62 x 19 cm

This depiction of the Virgin Mary brings to mind Loreto, an Italian shrine famous for housing the Santa Casa, a representation of the place where, according to Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary is said to have received the Annunciation from the archangel Gabriel.

The popularity of this depiction of the Virgin Mary in New France can be credited to Jesuit Father Pierre Chaumont, founder of the Huron-Wendat mission in Notre-Dame-de-Lorette in 1674. 

The body of this handcrafted work is made of squared poplar wood. The faces and arms (the only visible body parts) are sculpted and painted.

The statuette has six robes embroidered entirely by the Ursulines. 

A photograph of the 20th century shows the statuette on display in the Saint Augustine Oratory of the Ursuline Monastery in Quebec City, attesting to the Ursulines’ unwavering devotion.

Altar cloth, known as The Nativity

Silk, wool, gold, silver and tempera
Ursulines’ workshop
Between 1650 and 1700
95 x 261 x 6 cm

This ornament epitomizes the Ursulines’ talent for embroidery. The medallion is surrounded by a richly ornate design consisting of foliage, arabesques and scrolls embroidered with metallic thread, from which spring naturalistic flowers—roses, peonies, lilies, irises, carnations, tulips and columbines—“painted on” with a needle using wool and silk thread. 

The sumptuous embellishments are accentuated by motifs embroidered in high relief, such as the frame around the medallion and the cornucopias filled with fruit like pomegranates, grapes, strawberries, pears and apples. Two flower garlands draped over each side of the medallion add an element of gaiety and realism to this somewhat rigid design dominated by metallic embroidery.

Gold-leaf booklet

Paper, gold and ink
W.H. Kemp Co., England
Circa 1934
11 x 9 cm

Each page of this booklet contains a sheet of 24-carat gold, which was produced by a complex process. The leaves had to be laminated one at a time, then hammered by hand by a specialist called a goldbeater. The Ursulines ordered these booklets from Europe for use in their various gilding projects.

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