Claude François (1614-1685) known as brother Luc, a Franciscan recollect artist of renown, formed by great European masters, was as it is said ‘the first artist to hold a professional training in the history of Canadian art’. During a brief stay of fifteen months in Canada between 1670 and 1671, he executed several large paintings for the high altar of community chapels and churches of Quebec City and the surrounding area.
The painting “The Guardian Angel of the Church of that name, writes Gérard Morisset, is one of the most harmonious compositions of the artist; from this canvas emerges such serenity in the expressions and such a charm in the color that we have here a master’s work. » The book Sacred Art in French America describes the scene: it «represents a young man, a snake at his feet, hands crossed on his chest, looking at the Angel with a look moved by emotion and abandoning his own will to him. The Guardian Angel, suspended between heaven and earth, looks at the teenager and shows him the way of God. A body of water occupies the backdrop and the sky opens on the divine light, with the resplendent monogram of God. »
At the time of brother Luc, the cult of the Guardian Angel was already well established in the Catholic Church. Franciscan history teaches us that the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels was first observed in the Franciscan Order by decision of the general chapter of the year 1500. Some time after, in France, the blessed Francis d’Estaing, Bishop of Rodez, had an Office in honour of the Holy Guardian Angels composed by a Franciscan, Jean Colombi, and this Office was approved by Pope Leo X, April 18, 1518. But it is on September 13, 1670 that Pope Clement X fixed the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels on October 2, and made it mandatory for the universal Church.
Of this ancient Office in honour of the Holy Guardian Angels, only a few fragments have come down to us. “In the presence of the Angels, I will praise you, my God». One of the hymns we sing today is very solemn: “Glory to you, Lord of the angels, for their beauty in which shines forth the splendour of your presence. They lead us to the tree of life. The Father has chosen you to accompany toward his light, the heirs of salvation.” And the Preface of this mass dedicated to the Holy Guardian Angels adds: “For the honour we pay the angelic creatures in whom you delight redounds to your own surpassing glory, and by their great dignity and splendour you show how infinitely great you are, to be exalted above all things.”
It is in 1671 that brother Luc, would have painted for the Church of the Guardian Angel, on the Beaupré coast, this painting dedicated to the Patron of the parish. Although the cult of the guardian angel becomes popular only at the beginning of the 16th century, it is not surprising that he is honoured in this Church since the angels, guides and protectors, intermediates between God and the faithful, were the object of one of Mgr. François de Laval’s special devotions.
The painting is currently in the Museum of fine arts of Quebec, located in the park of the Plains of Abraham.
Fr. Georges Morin, o.f.m.