Looking & Seeing the Painting

La France apportant la foi aux Hurons de la Nouvelle-France, (c. 1670).

In the article called “Absolute Faith, or France Bringing Representation to the Subjects of New France” (1997), Josephy Monteyne assembles an interesting collage of the various ways of “looking” at what is believed to be Frère Luc’s painting, La France apportant la foi aux Hurons de la Nouvelle-France, (c. 1670).  He disputes art critics Harper and Lord for the way they “look” at the painting; the first for only seeing the painting as one created in “the grand manner of art of the dying phases of Renaissance religious painting”; and the second for only seeing objects of religious and imperial propaganda (Monteyne, 18). While both perspectives have merit, Monteyne provides extensive contextual analysis of the painting, shedding light on the painting as we look upon it today, alluding to our own cultural references to help us self-consciously see the painting, and also show us how the Indigenous looked upon it.

            Monteyne describes the scene of the submissive subject looking at the gifted painting with all of its connotations. He calls it an “allegorical image” and hints at this through his explanation of “representation of a gift of representation” (Monteyne, 12).   This immediately demands that I, as the looker of the painting today, must consider how this frame I am seeing has been particularly selected, giving Lord’s position on the painting as propaganda credibility. Given the powers the Indigenous placed on the visual images, they were overcome by the works and therefore subjugated. Myself looking, I recognize a similarity to the painting of the painting of a pipe—the image in the image. There is representation here, but the code is hidden from me at the moment, but soon to be revealed through the detailed history Monteyne provides.

            The dense history of France, Louis XIV, the Jesuits, and the Recollets, as well as Laval who was appointed Bishop of New France by the king and pope, provides context which gradually opens the looker’s eyes to use of religious and political icons in the painting, the overall metaphor of the woman as King of France wearing a necklace with an “L” for Louis on it, and all the force of the king’s centralized and growing power stretching out to the far reaches of his colonies by ship with flutter flags, subjugating the indigenous peoples on new lands and bringing them into France’s labour force. Suddenly, it’s all there, even showing me that the fleur de lis on the blanket covering the Native man is meant to comfort and him with the idea that he will be taken care of under France. While the simple look revealed the final punch line which we are all familiar with, having the context makes every detail a motif, every colour symbolic, every image representational. Rather than simply looking now, I am now seeing.

            Furthermore, I was struck by how the struggle of the various religious orders under the crown of France is parallel to the struggle of the Indigenous peoples. Monteyne shows how indigenous arts were appropriated for the use of the colonizers; and the actual painting of the painting was an appropriation of Rome’s religious art for the purpose of subjugating the Indigenous because to them, images held great spiritual power. They looked upon the paintings, both the painting in the painting, and the actual painting, through their own cultural lens—and they were undone. They also needed to learn how to see the paintings.

Works Cited

Monteyne, Joseph. “Absolute Faith, or France Bringing Representation to the Subjects of New France.” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 1997, pp. 12–22. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1360712. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

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