Votive Painting | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Votive Painting

Congratulatory ex-votos, offered for a favour received, are the most common.
Votive of the Shipwreck at Lévis, anonymous, 1754, oil on wood panel, 32.4 x 52.1 cm (courtesy Musée Historical, Basilique Sainte-Anne).

Votive Painting

The term "ex voto" comes from the Latin "ex voto suscepto " meaning "in pursuance of a vow." It may be used in reference to a painting, a plaque or any object placed in a church or chapel to commemorate a vow or to express thanks for a favour received. This practice, a religious gesture made in the face of death or a simple expression of gratitude to the Divinity, has existed since the beginning of time and was introduced into New France with the arrival of the French colonists. The STE-ANNE-DE-BEAUPRÉ historical museum (across from Ile d'Orléans) houses Canada's largest collection of votive paintings, dedicated to St Anne, the patron saint of sailors. These paintings date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, each telling a particular story.

Congratulatory ex-votos, offered for a favour received, are the most common. They include the Ex-voto de Saint-François, the Ex-voto du Saint-Esprit de Québec, the Ex-voto à Sainte Anne et à Saint Antoine, the Ex-voto des cinq naufragés, the Ex-voto d'Iberville, the Ex-voto de Monsieur Edouin (all kept at Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré) and the Ex-voto de l'Aimable Marthe kept at Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. To attract the protection of the divine power, the donor may offer a propitiary ex-voto before the event, as in the Ex-voto de Madame Riverin. Commemorative ex-votos, such as the Ex-voto de Louis Prat, serve as a reminder of a past event. Ex-votos may also be offered out of simple devotion. Usually the saint is depicted in the upper part of the painting and the event for which the ex-voto is offered is shown in the lower part. The artist makes no link between the scene and the sacred person, and the 2 parts are often disproportioned.

In the past, votive paintings were sometimes considered of little artistic value and, having lost their significance for priests in charge of pilgrimage sites, many recorded examples have disappeared, including the Ex-voto de Saint-François offered by Antoine Lamorille and Capt Pierre d'Astaritz after their ship was dismasted on 29 Sept 1732. Marble plaques began to appear in Canada in the mid-19th century and gradually replaced the ex-voto artworks. Votive paintings conserved today are important not only to our country's history, but also because few examples dating from the 17th and 18th centuries are found elsewhere.

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