Marie Lemaire des Anges' 1675 Altar Frontal of the Immaculate Conception in Quebec City

With today being the feast of the Immaculate Conception it seemed like a good opportunity to share an an antepnedium dedicated to the same, coming from the second half of the seventeenth century and taken from the exhibition “Broder comme une Ursuline" which was hosted at the Musée des Ursulines de Québec in historic Quebec City.  First, a little bit about this exhibition taken from the museum's website:
This exhibition opens the doors of the Ursulines embroidery workshop, a mysterious creative space where, following Marie de l'Incarnation, generations of nuns worked.

If the archives and collections eloquently testify to the skill of the nuns, until now there has been nothing to prove that the ornaments embroidered by these needle virtuosos had been designed in their workshop. The recent discovery of precious Ursuline embroidery patterns, some of which date back to the 17th century, today confirms this “motherhood.”

Just like the embroideries for which they were the models, these patterns bear the seal of the extraordinary know-how of the embroiderers of the monastery of Quebec.
Turning back to the particular altar frontal that is our focus for today then, it was embroidered by Mother Marie Lemaire des Anges who was born in Paris, France in the year 1641. She would go on to become an Ursuline in Paris before leaving her native shores for the Ursuline Convent in Quebec in 1671, finally becoming the Mother Superior in 1694.

Mother Marie was renowned not only for her skill at embroidery (which she also applied to other vestment works) but additionally for her expertise in lace-making.

The Annals of the Ursuline Monastery of Quebec speak as follows of her and her artistic legacy: 
She liked to work for the decoration of the Lord's temples and there is hardly a church in New France who does not have her works.  The most beautiful ornaments in our sacristy are hers, along with those of our young sisters whom she trained and partly trained in embroidery. [...] She didn't waste a moment, being always busied making flowers, where she succeeded admirably well.
We have already shown you the full antependium above, but here are a few more details taken from the frontal, beginning first and foremost with the central image of the Virgin herself who is surrounded by a large, ornamental cartouche:

There is a particular delicacy to the facial features:

This next detail shows some of the large cornucopia which also feature prominently on the frontal. Inside of these are depicted pomegranates, grapes and other fruits:

Of course these designs do not spring from nowhere, they have to be planned and drafted, and as was mentioned by the museum in their exhibition notes above, we are fortunate that some of underlying patterns have recently been unearthed, such as this one which corresponds precisely to the embroidery above (with some minor modifications):

We will explore more of Mother Marie's embroidery work in the coming articles in the coming months, some of which is even more impressive than even this frontal.

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