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Sculpture
  • Sculpture
    da Rovezzano, Benedetto, born 1474 - died 1554
  • Enlarge image

Sculpture

  • Place of origin:

    London

  • Date:

    1524-1529

  • Artist/Maker:

    da Rovezzano, Benedetto, born 1474 - died 1554 (Sculptor)
    Wolsey

  • Materials and Techniques:

    copper, cast

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, a gift in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, the Friends of the V&A, the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, the American Friends of the V&A, Demirjian Family, Sam Fogg, Michael and Stark Ward,Mr and Mrs Nicholas Coleridge CBE, Mr Crispin Odey, Miss Grace Patricia Hills, Fortuna Fine Arts, Ltd., Mrs Tiqui Atencio Demirdjian and Mr Ago Demirdjian, Old Possum’s Practical Trust, Madeleine Fagandini, Mr Oliver John St John Heaton, Ida Carrara, The John Armitage Charitable Trust, Mr Peter Goodwin, Susan Hughes through Legacy10, Mark and Liza Loveday, Fred Rowley, and many generous donors thanks to a major public appeal in 2014.

  • Museum number:

    A.1-2015

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 63, The Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case FS, shelf SWAL

This candle-bearing angel is one of four originally designed for the tomb of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the principal prelate of Tudor England. It is a rare example of a large cast bronze figure from the early sixteenth century by an Italian sculptor working in England. In 1524 Cardinal Wolsey commissioned Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano to design a magnificent tomb in the Renaissance style which would have been one of the major funerary commissions of the Tudor period. The scale of the tomb and its rich materials of black touchstone, white marble and gilded bronze would have reflected Cardinal Wolsey’s wealth and statesmanship at the height of his powers. After his downfall, the tomb parts were seized by Henry VIII to be used for his own monument.

Benedetto da Rovezzano, who worked in England from 1519 to around 1540, was a contemporary of Michelangelo working in marble, stone and bronze. One of his earliest commissions in 1508 was to finish Michelangelo’s bronze 'David' (now lost), proving that his metal working skills were already very much in demand. This figure of a candle-bearing angel is comparable to angels used in Andrea Sansovino’s earlier altar in Santo Spirito, Florence (c. 1491-92), which would have been familiar to Benedetto. The sculptor also used a similar type of angel in the ‘Translation of the Body of San Giovanni Gualberto’, a sculpture originally in the chapel of Saint John Gualbert, now in the Museo del Cenacolo di San Salvi, Florence.

Physical description

Candle-bearing angel stepping forward, knees slightly bent, portraying a sense of movement and energy, with short, wavy, unadorned hair and clothed in classical drapery gathered up at the back and falling to the base.

Place of Origin

London

Date

1524-1529

Artist/maker

da Rovezzano, Benedetto, born 1474 - died 1554 (Sculptor)
Wolsey

Materials and Techniques

copper, cast

Dimensions

Height: 101 cm, Width: 50 cm of base, Depth: 33 cm of base, Weight: 141 kg

Object history note

This sculpture was created between 1524 and 1529 during the critical period in which Henry VIII was seeking to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Cardinal Wolsey failed to secure this annulment from the Pope which led to his fall from power. In 1529 he was dismissed as Chancellor and stripped of most of his titles. He was ordered to leave London and went to York as Archbishop of York. In November 1530 Wolsey was arrested for treason but died in Leicester during the journey to London.

After his death, parts of Wolsey’s tomb were appropriated by Henry VIII to be incorporated in his own memorial. Components of the tomb included a sarcophagus of black touchstone and twenty-seven pieces of sculpture, most of which were gilded. The four candle-bearing angels, ungilded and to stand on nine-foot-high bronze columns, are documented in inventories of the tomb parts prepared by the artist for the king.

Henry VIII employed Benedetto da Rovezzano to complete his own tomb on an even grander scale. However by 1536, when the last recorded payment was made to Benedetto, its construction remained unfinished. His children intended to complete the memorial posthumously, but failed to do so. In 1565 Elizabeth I moved the tomb parts to Windsor. During the Civil War, Parliamentarians sold elements of the tomb to raise funds for the garrison at Windsor. The tomb chest was left and later reutilised for Admiral Nelson’s monument in St Paul’s Cathedral. Four large bronze candelabra, designed for the tomb of Henry VIII, were known to have been acquired by the Bishop of Ghent in the seventeenth century and remain in the Cathedral of St. Bavo in Ghent (a plaster cast of one of these is in the collection, Repro.1865-47).

The existence of all four angels remained unknown until two appeared in an auction in 1994 and catalogued as ‘A Pair of Large Bronze Angels in Italian Renaissance style’. These two were later ascribed to Benedetto da Rovezzano and associated with the Wolsey tomb by Renaissance scholar Francesco Caglioti. In 2008 the other two angels were discovered at Harrowden Hall, a country house in Northamptonshire. Although earlier estate and owners had important connections with the Tudor and Stuart monarchy, the current Hall was built between 1691 and 1719 and there is no known record of how or when the sculptures were acquired. Early twentieth century archive photographs record the angels,with wings, surmounting the gate pillars of the Hall.

Descriptive line

Candle-bearing angel, by Benedetto da Rovezzano, about 1524-1529

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Caglioti, Francesco, ‘Benedetto da Rovezzano in England: New Light on the Cardinal Wolsey-Henry VIII Tomb’, in The Anglo-Florentine Renaissance Art for the Early Tudors, ed. Sicca, Cinzia Maria and Waldman, Louis A. (New Haven and London, The Yale Center for British Art and The Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art, 2012) pp.177-202.
Lindley, Phillip G., ‘Playing Check-mate with Royal Majesty? Wolsey’s Patronage of Italian Renaissance Sculpture’, in Cardinal Wolsey: Church, State and Art, ed. Gunn, Steven J. and Lindley, Phillip G. (Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 1991) pp. 261-85.
Higgins, Alfred, ‘On the Work of Florentine Sculptors in England in the Early Part of the Sixteenth Century: With Special Reference to the Tombs of Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII’, Archaeological Journal, 51 (1894), pp. 129-220, 367-70.

Materials

Copper

Techniques

Casting

Categories

Religion; Sculpture; Death; Royalty

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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