Cardinal Wolsey's long-lost angels saved for nation
- V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)
- 9 February 2015
The Wolsey Angels – a group of four bronze statues commissioned by Cardinal Wolsey for his tomb – will be bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London following the success of a £5m fundraising campaign.
The V&A's fundraising campaign was successful thanks to a public appeal, which raised over £65,000, as well as a number of high-value grants, including £500,000 from the Art Fund.
The four angels were commissioned in 1524 to form part of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey's magnificent tomb, designed in the Renaissance style. The sculptor was to be the Florentine artist Benedetto da Rovezzano, a contemporary of Michelangelo who was described by Giorgio Vasari as 'among our most excellent craftsmen'.
Henry VIII appropriated the angels following Wolsey's fall from favour and subsequent death, but didn't live to see the tomb completed. The tomb was moved to Westminster by Elizabeth I, and remained there until the English Civil War, when many elements of the tomb – including the angels – were sold off to raise funds.
The angels' survival was unknown until two appeared at a Sotheby's sale in 1994. In 2008, the second pair was discovered at Harrowden Hall, a country house in Northamptonshire, now owned by the Wellingborough Golf Club. It was later revealed that the Sotheby's pair had been stolen from Harrowden in 1988.
Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: 'The unexpected opportunity to reunite and display these four beautiful works of sculpture, so intimately connected with the course of British history, could not be overlooked. The Art Fund was happy to support the acquisition and is immensely pleased that the public campaign has been so successful.'
An exclusive feature on the Wolsey Angels by Hilary Mantel is included in the spring 2015 issue of Art Quarterly. Join the Art Fund to receive your copy on 1 March.