The V&A acquire Wolsey’s Angels for the Nation

Posted February 9, 2015 at 4:13 pm in Art, Heritage, Interiors, News

Wolsey Angels on display at the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, London Wolsey Angels on display at the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014. (C) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

IN A timely announcement, tying in neatly with the BBC’s highly acclaimed production of Wolf Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum have raised the funds to acquire four highly important bronze angels, known as “Wolsey’s Angels” which were originally designed for the tomb of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the chief advisor to King Henry VIII, and were subsequently appropriated by the king following Wolsey’s fall from favour.

The four bronze angels were commissioned in 1524 by Cardinal Wolsey from the Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano, a contemporary of Michelangel, to be as part of his tomb designed in the Renaissance style, which reflected Cardinal Wolsey’s wealth and statesmanship. After Wolsey was deposed, the angels were appropriated by the King, along with all Wolsey’s other possessions,  and Benedetto was commissioned to complete the tomb for Henry. Basing himself at Westminster, Bendetto  employed founders and other craftsmen. However, Henry VIII did not live to see the tomb finished and despite his three heirs declaring they would  complete the memorial posthumously, this didn’t happen and the angels, tomb and candlesticks were separated and acquired by a variety of other owners.

Martin Roth, V&A Director, said: “The Wolsey Angels are a vital part of our national history and artistic heritage. We are very grateful to everyone who contributed to our fundraising appeal to ensure these outstanding sculptures, which were thought to be lost, are reunited and preserved at the V&A for future generations.”


Wolsey Angels on display at the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, LondonWolsey Angels on display at the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014. (C) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The existence of the angels was not known until two of them appeared at auction in 1994, unillustrated and catalogued as being “in Italian Renaissance style”. They were bought by a Parisian art dealer and later the Italian scholar Francesco Caglioti attributed them to Benedetto. In 200,  the remaining pair of angels was discovered at Harrowden Hall, Northamptonshire, now owned by the Wellingborough Golf Club, where all four angels had once been positioned on top of the gateposts.

The author of Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel said, “The recovery of Wolsey’s angels is one of those miracles that historians pray for; something that seems irrevocably lost has been there all the time. To claim the angels for the nation would connect us to one of the liveliest eras of our history and one of its most remarkable men.”

The campaign mounted by the V&A to purchase and reunite the four angels was assisted by a grant of £2 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund also contributed £500,000, and the Friends of the V&A gave £200,000; a further large gift was made in memory of Melvin R.Seiden, and many other private individuals and trusts, notably the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, also donated.

Over £87,000 was raised from a national public appeal. Around £33,000 of that came through on-site donations and selling £1 “Save the Wolsey Angels” badges in the V&A Shop.

“Now that the pieces have been acquired they will undergo conservation treatment and their differing surface appearance, due to their recent history, will be investigated and harmonised. They will go back on display once the work has been complete,” says the V&A.

by Caroline Simpson

Front page image credits:  Wolsey Angels fundraising campaign, actor Paul Jesson as Cardinal Wolsey with reunited four bronze angels 2014. (C) Victoria and Albert Museum, Londo

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