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Original title:  Francois Ranvoyze

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RANVOYZÉ (Ranvoizé), FRANÇOIS, gold- and silversmith; b. 25 Dec. 1739 at Quebec, son of Étienne Ranvoizé, a button maker, and Jeanne Poitras; m. there 25 Nov. 1771 Marie-Vénérande Pelerin, and they had ten children; d. there 8 Oct. 1819.

François Ranvoyzé had some contact with metal working from his earliest days, since his father made buttons out of brass or copper. He was only ten, however, when his father died. There are a number of indications that Ranvoyzé was apprenticed to the silversmith Ignace-François Delezenne*, although no date can be specified; the usual age for beginning apprenticeship was between 12 and 16. Delezenne’s shop was on Rue de la Montagne, a few steps from the Ranvoyzés’ house. From 1756 to 1759 Delezenne used the services of many silversmiths and apprentices, sometimes taking them on by written contract, to make phenomenal quantities of the jewellery bartered for furs; Ranvoyzé may have been one of their number. In addition, some of Ranvoyzé’s decorative idiom bears a certain similarity to the spirit of the primitive and repetitive motifs found in trade silver.

Ranvoyzé likely completed his apprenticeship by the age of 21, as was customary; the date would have been around 1760 or 1761. Then he probably worked with Delezenne as either journeyman or partner. That there were close links between the two silversmiths was evident on several occasions. In 1771, when the contract for his marriage with Marie-Vénérande Pelerin was signed, Ranvoyzé called Delezenne “his friend who is a father to him.” Again, the numerous resemblances in shape and decoration between their articles of silverware can only be understood as the result of close collaboration. This hypothesis might partially explain the fact that Delezenne changed his mark from IF,D to DZ, a mark which suggests two letters from his own name and also the Z in Ranvoyzé, a letter not to be found in the name of any other silversmith of the period. From 1771 until 1775 they lived within a few steps of each other; in 1772 Ranvoyzé chose Delezenne as godfather for his first-born son; in 1778 during the course of her incredible matrimonial adventures, Marie-Catherine Delezenne*, the silversmith’s daughter, was locked up in the Ranvoyzés’ house [see Pierre de Sales Laterrière ] .

When he married, however, Ranvoyzé already owned a “silversmithing shop,” with all the necessary tools, and also had savings of 1,500 “shillings in legal currency . . . resulting from his work and industry.” The first known professional account that he rendered was for a payment dated 1771 for repairs to two objects belonging to the fabrique of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires at Quebec. Ranvoyzé was living on Rue Saint-Jean at the time; from 1780 he lived, at first as a tenant, in a house that he subsequently bought from the estate of Pascal Soulard. Apparently he remained there until he died. The long and complicated transaction to acquire the dwelling, which involved several heirs, shows Ranvoyzé’s persistence, tact, and patience.

There were few events of note in Ranvoyzé’s family and social life. Seven of the ten children born of his marriage are mentioned in a will dated 1 April 1817, which was drawn up a year after his wife’s death. In addition to his property on Rue Saint-Jean, Ranvoyzé left two others, on Rue des Remparts and Rue des Ursulines, as well as sums amounting to £2,000. At that time two of his four daughters were married, his sons Louis and Étienne* were in practice as notaries, and François-Ignace* was a priest. The division of the property amongst them was done on a very personal basis. Ranvoyzé’s public life was limited to his role as a churchwarden of Notre-Dame in Quebec in 1798–99, his affiliation with the Quebec Fire Society, and his financial contribution to the Loyal and Patriotic Society of the Province of Lower Canada in 1813. In 1802 he received two lots in Simpson Township as a reward for service in the militia during the American invasion [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*]. He soon sold these properties to the merchant Josias Wurtele* for £7 and “other favourable considerations.” In 1795 Ranvoyzé joined with six other silversmiths to challenge a law regulating the use of forges [see Michel Forton]. Following his death in 1819, notices published in several newspapers called him “an old and respectable citizen”; he was buried in the Cimetière des Pauvres.

All the Ranvoyzé children enjoyed a degree of financial and social security that had certainly been attained at the cost of constant efforts to educate and bring them up. The portraits of the parents, which have been attributed to François Baillairgé*, depict Ranvoyzé as a worthy bourgeois, smiling, energetic, honest, hard-working, and well established. It seems clear that he was not involved in contentious lawsuits, sizeable business deals, or repeated speculation in real estate. In short, he was a quiet man who devoted his life to his family and laboured assiduously turning out a silversmith’s wares.

By contrast, Ranvoyzé’s work is fascinating in its volume, diversity, quality, and complexity. It is estimated to include several hundred items, perhaps a thousand or more. Their wide dispersal today, reflecting the fact that frequently they are no longer in use for their original purposes, explains why no one has yet managed to compile a descriptive catalogue or make a serious study of them. Fortunately the account-books of the fabriques make some comment possible. There are approximately 200 entries concerning the silversmith, his works, or the repairs he undertook. The statements of account occur at regular intervals from 1771 to 1818. He therefore was engaged in professional activity steadily for at least 48 years, exclusive of any apprenticeship.

Ranvoyzé had such a hold on the market for religious silver that from 1774 until 1794 he worked for a dozen parishes in the Montreal region. It is true that at this period the silversmiths in the town, Michael Arnoldi, Robert Cruickshank, Charles Duval*, and Pierre Huguet, dit Latour, were channelling their energies into the production of trade silver. In the 1790s Laurent Amiot* also received a number of orders from the fabriques, and so gradually reduced. Ranvoyzé’s clientele in the Montreal region. From 1803 this market passed into the hands of Pierre Huguet, who even received orders from as far away as the lower St Lawrence. Ranvoyzé never lacked work, however; in the course of his career several new parishes came into being, and the old ones frequently called upon his services to refurbish or augment what they already possessed.

The requirements of his clientele, which were set down when an order was received, partially explain the variety in form and style of Ranvoyzé’s work. Indeed, he knew better than any other silversmith how to adapt his wares to his clients’ wishes. His versatility, linked to a creative imagination, enabled him to satisfy every taste. Throughout his career Ranvoyzé copied objects of different styles, often at a client’s specific request. His work, therefore, was poles apart from the uniform and repetitive style imposed by Amiot, and that is what makes it so interesting. Ranvoyzé always surprises us with a unique or different shape or decorative motif.

In attending to damaged or old objects, Ranvoyzé made repairs or added further decoration. This was certainly the most economical solution for a fabrique. On the other hand, by putting his mark over earlier ones Ranvoyzé has baffled a number of art historians with the seemingly inconsistent and conflicting decorative styles on the same object.

Sometimes Ranvoyzé entered the prices of the material and of the workmanship separately on his invoices. Only wealthy clients could afford a richly decorated object that required much of the silversmith’s time. Others had to be satisfied with models turned out in several copies, as were certain chalices, processional crosses, and boxes for holy oil. But cost was only one of the relevant factors; in the choice of a silversmith or of the style to be given to a liturgical object, the taste of the parish priest was the preponderant one.

It is very difficult to give a clear picture of the chronological evolution of Ranvoyzé’s work. Only about a hundred religious pieces can be dated with precision. Moreover, given the doubtful accuracy of entries in account-books and the hazards of disappearance and destruction, it is uncertain whether this restricted sample is representative. For certain types of object Ranvoyzé reproduced the same models throughout his career: the processional cross in the Séminaire de Québec (1774) is identical to the one at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré (1814), and the Ursulines’ chalice (1779) to the one at L’Islet (1810) (both being copied from pieces in Louis XIV style). Examination of the ewers, boxes for holy oil, candlesticks, and piscinae yields little information that would enable us to characterize periods in the evolution of Ranvoyzé’s style. Only with the following objects can appropriate divisions be established: aspersoria, chalices, ciboria, censers, incense boxes, sanctuary lamps, and salvers.

In the period 1771–81 Ranvoyzé copied forms and decorative motifs from French pieces imported during the French régime and also from the works of Paul Lambert*, dit Saint-Paul, and Ignace-François Delezenne. During these early years one motif he seems to have used particularly was a series of small circles irregularly spaced within two lines forming a semicircle. Primitive and naïve, this motif calls to mind the sort of decoration found on trade jewellery. It sometimes crowns a serrated, stylized, and symmetrical leaf that he also used a great deal.

The ciborium of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnets (Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies), which was made in 1782, is the first object with the distinctive style that made Ranvoyzé’s reputation: a decoration of foliage and large exotic fruit running all over the surface freely and in charming fashion. In the 1790s the fruit seems to be used less often and the plant motifs are organized more into the shape of an elongated frieze. In 1798 Ranvoyzé first used a geometrical decoration consisting of garlands of laurel leaves and large bosses inspired by the Louis XVI style brought back from Paris by Laurent Amiot in 1787; this style was, however, to be more characteristic of his work from 1803. The last object decorated with plant motifs that has been found, the aspersorium at Charlesbourg, dates, indeed, from that year; significantly, these motifs are crushed in the vice of two geometrical ones. As for the numerous chalices copied from the one by Guillaume Loir that is kept at the church of Notre-Dame in Montreal, they were all made in the 1780s.

It is surprising that Ranvoyzé was able to produce such a large collection without the help of apprentices or partners. Some authors have claimed that Joseph-Christophe Delezenne was his apprentice; in fact it seems that Delezenne worked with his father. On the other hand, numerous historical studies, on the basis of a single oral source, report that Laurent Amiot may have done his apprenticeship with Ranvoyzé. But these accounts are so contradictory that it is risky to credit them. According to other hypotheses Ranvoyzé’s sons, Étienne and François-Ignace, worked with him. One could even add to the list the name of his brother, Louis Ranvoyzé, for as a gunsmith and locksmith he was already working in metals. There is, however, no documentary evidence to support these theories, which have been advanced to explain the wide variety of marks used by the silversmith, and in particular the marks ER, FIR, and IFR. But the gold monstrance at L’Islet, whose fabrication is abundantly documented, was entirely Ranvoyzé’s work, and it bears three of the versions of his marks, including the well-known ER. Moreover, a variation with letters in italics was sometimes badly stamped, thus giving the impression that the vertical line of the R is split, forming an I. As for the styles of all the works bearing variants, they are quite comparable to the pieces definitively attributed to Ranvoyzé. It is possible, therefore, that Ranvoyzé was able to turn out this vast quantity of work by himself, for throughout a very long career all his energies were devoted to his profession. The variety of marks that he used would be but one more expression of his personality, corresponding to the diversity of forms and ornamentation in his creations.

Although François Ranvoyzé’s religious work predominates, he did turn out some important pieces of hollow-ware and a good deal of flatware. These items are, however, of little help in establishing the various periods in the evolution of his style or in dating or understanding its development. Nor does he display his greatest originality in this part of his work. As for trade silver, a single object has been attributed to him. Ranvoyzé was the only one of the Quebec silversmiths to leave three items of solid gold – the chalice, ciborium, and monstrance at L’Islet – and he remains unquestionably the most creative and the most imaginative of them. Any anthology of great Quebec artists would have to include his name.

Robert Derome and José Ménard

[Some of François Ranvoyzé’s work is in the Henry Birks Collection of Silver at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa) and at the Musée du Québec (Québec). The Fonds Morisset, held at MAC-CD, contains files on Ranvoyzé (2, R213.5/F825) and on Ignace-François Delezenne (2, D348.3/I24.3), both of which provided a great deal of information for this article.

There is still no full biographical study of François Ranvoyzé and no descriptive catalogue of his works and marks. For an account of his early career, clientele, and style, and a résumé of his work, consult François Ranvoyzé, orfèvre, 1739–1819 (Québec, 1968), a catalogue of an exhibition held at the Musée du Québec. His apprenticeship and service as a journeyman is examined by Robert Derome in “Delezenne, le maitre de Ranvoyzé,” Vie des Arts (Montréal), 21 (1976), no.83: 56–58. Also valuable is the same author’s “Delezenne, les orfèvres, l’orefèvrerie, 1740–1790” (ma thesis, univ. de Montréal, 1974), 52, 68–76, 106–7, 172–74. Gérard Morisset*’s François Ranvoyzé (Québec, 1942), remains the standard treatment of his activities and the principal stylistic analysis of his output.  r.d. and j.m.]

ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 26 déc. 1739, 4 sept. 1749, 27 oct. 1750, 25 sept. 1758, 7 sept. 1772, 16 nov. 1773, 26 nov. 1774, 10 mars 1776, 25 août 1777, 9 mai 1779, 19 mars 1782, 1er déc. 1785, 3 mai 1787, 17 avril 1789, 2 juill. 1804, 7 janv. 1805; CN1-23, 5 févr. 1813, 5 nov. 1814, 1er avril 1817; CN1-25, 3 févr. 1778; CN1-79, 23 juill. 1756; CN1-83, 14 mars 1787; CN1-178, 15 mai 1799, 10 avril 1801; CN1-189, 9 févr. 1767; CN1-205, 30 nov. 1778, 7 juin 1779; CN1-207, 27 nov. 1752, 25 avril 1771, 13 mai 1772, 21 août 1773; CN1-212, 21 déc. 1816; CN1-230, 13 nov. 1795; CN1-248, 24 nov. 1771; CN1-262, 11 juin 1803; CN1-285, 20 févr. 1801, 26 juill. 1802. AP, Notre-Dame de Québec, Cahiers des délibérations de la fabrique, 1768; Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (Québec), Livres de comptes, 1771. ASQ, Lettres, P, 22, 29, 35. Le Courrier du Bas-Canada (Montréal), 16 oct. 1819. Quebec Gazette, 3 Jan. 1820. Quebec Mercury, 5 March 1816, 12 Oct. 1819. Michel Cauchon, Jean-Baptiste Roy-Audy, 1778-c.1848 (Québec, 1971). Langdon, Canadian silversmiths, 65. Gérard Morisset, Évolution dune pièce dargenterie (Québec, 1943), 6–7. Traquair, Old silver of Quebec. Marius Barbeau, “Anciens orfèvres de Québec,” La Presse (Montréal), 1er juin 1935: 73. E. A. Jones, “Old church silver in Canada,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 12 (1918), sect.ii: 148–49. Gérard Morisset, “L’œuvre capricieuse de François Ranvoyzé,” LAction catholique (Québec), 18 mars 1942: 4; “Les vases d’or de l’église de l’Islet,” La Patrie (Montréal), 12 mars 1950: 18, 42. “Ranvoyzé, très illustre orfèvre canadien-français,” LÉvénement (Québec), 12 mars 1942: 3, 10. P.-G. Roy, “La famille de Jean Amyot,” BRH, 25 (1919): 232.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert Derome and José Ménard, “RANVOYZÉ, FRANÇOIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ranvoyze_francois_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ranvoyze_francois_5E.html
Author of Article: Robert Derome and José Ménard
Title of Article: RANVOYZÉ, FRANÇOIS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: November 23, 2014