At the end of the First World War, to protect his village from the spanish ?u epidemic brought home by returning soldiers, a young priest recently arrived in the Parish of Lac St-Jean commissions a wandering Italian painter to decorate the walls of the local church with a fresco dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The painter is to choose, among four local women all named Mary, a model for his work. The presence of the foreign artist, his choice of a local virgin to serve as a model and the frighteningly strange nature of his work will upset the lives and change the fate of the entire community. The town’s doctor, meanwhile, has his own prescription for what is ailing the villagers. As superstition collides with desire, The Madonna Painter unmasks a bouquet of lies disguised as a fable.
Loosely inspired by the events surrounding the creation of the fresco that still adorns the nave of the church in Saint-Coeur de Marie, the author’s native village, the language of the play is not that of its current inhabitants. Bouchard’s characters simply echo the medieval beliefs that coloured the imagination and shaped the destiny of all Québécois, especially those living in its many rural townships until very recently, and inspire this story with their gossip about their neighbours, foreigners and the mythical marital spats between God and Satan. That fresco depicting the Virgin Mary’s ascension was the author’s ?rst encounter with art, with a foreigner and with lies, and Michel Marc Bouchard has said: ?In order to portray that fresco, I became a liar and the people from my village became saints and martyrs, artists and models, lovers and misanthropes. I presented their legends the way a ?ea market hawker displays sacred objects that have been stolen and disguised for resale.”