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Mandibule (1975.592) [Mandible (1975.592)], 2021, Cabinet of curiosities (wood, mirror, glass), mirrors, tripods, plaster, Variable dimensions

The acquisition date of this mandible (1975) suggests it is part of the collection of natural history specimens amassed by the Clerics of Saint-Viateur. The information contained in its acquisition file suggests that it may have belonged to Barthélemy Joliette. Desjardins underlines the close relationship between the region and its founder by incorporating an outline of the Assomption river in her piece and presenting it alongside an original genre scene featuring Barthélemy Joliette. She also highlights the strange and unlikely presence of such an artifact in an art museum collection by presenting it in a display case which, thanks to its strategically placed mirrors, brings to mind a cabinet of curiosities.


On October 15, 2020, at 11:59 a.m., Charlotte Lalou Rousseau, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, sent Chloé Desjardins a description of object 1975.592.


The object I chose is surprising in the context of an art museum’s storage spaces, as it belongs to the biological realm. I first heard about this object a year or two ago, and it stuck with me.

Mandible (noun): a horseshoe-shaped bone forming the skeleton of the lower human jaw. It is composed of bone and ivory, all in shades of brown and ecru. Its texture is porous and its dimensions are 5 x 11.5 x 12 cm. Ten teeth are still in it, two with enamel almost intact and one loose. Some of the teeth are worn away, as if the owner ground his or her teeth, and others are chipped. The anchor points of the teeth are eroded, the grime is a hundred years old. The ends of the bone, the ones that fit into the skull, remind me of a deer’s antlers or a chicken’s carcass. Little information is available about this object. Period: nineteenth century. Culture: Canadian. Some pictures show it in a display case composed of a circular base and a glass globe. The old acquisition number (G-75-592-H) is written under the chin.

I consulted a friend for a denturological perspective. On quadrant 4, tooth 6 is missing and tooth 7 is isolated. There is significant attrition—enamel wear— especially on premolar 5, where the darker-coloured dentin inside the tooth is visible. Where teeth fell out during this person’s lifetime, the mandible has closed and thinned. The gaping hole where tooth 2 in quadrant 4 should be suggests that it fell out shortly before death, or even afterwards. The two small holes on either side of the former jaw lead to the back, inside, near the joint. These are the conduits through which the nerves run. Another hole is located inside the structure, in the centre, under the incisors: this one remains mysterious.

It is strange to observe so closely an object that was once an integral part of a body, of a face. How did this mandible come to be dissociated from its skull? Why did someone see fit to keep this specific part of another human’s body? Was this person particularly talkative? Did they have a large appetite? How many people did they kiss? How many people did they insult? In the artwork file, the source statement reads, “Presumed jaw of Barthélemy Joliette.”

Barthélemy Joliette (1789–1850) was a notary in L’Assomption; he fought in the War of 1812 and rose through the military ranks. He married Charlotte Tarieu de Lanaudière in 1813. As seigneur of Lavaltrie, he developed the forestry industry in the region and created the village of Industrie in 1824. In 1843, a parish was founded there. The college built in 1845 was entrusted to the Clerics of Saint-Viateur in 1847. The railway was inaugurated in 1850 and Joliette died in June of that year. In 1863, the village of Industrie was incorporated under the name of City of Joliette.

I have heard that Jesus Christ’s crown of thorns is also found in the storage spaces of the Museum.

Mandible, 19th century, Bone and ivory, 5 x 11,5 x 12 cm

Collection of Musée d’art de Joliette. Unknown provenance. 1975.592

Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, Barthélémie Joliette et Mgr Bourget [Barthélémy Joliette and Bp Bourget], 1922, Pastel on paper, 27,3 x 46,5 cm

Séminaire of Joliette collection. Gift of the Clerics of St. Viator of Canada. 2012.112

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