A national fundraising campaign has been launched to buy four bronze angels that shine a light on the tempestuous relationship between Henry VIII and Cardinal
The angels were originally commissioned by Wolsey for his tomb. He hoped that they would have sat spectacularly on top of four 9ft (2.75 metres) tall bronze columns.
But Wolsey's fall from grace, because of his failure to persuade the pope to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, meant they were never used. Henry then appropriated them for his tomb - but they were again unused and were lost until 2008, when it was discovered that two of them were on the gate posts of a country house in
The V&A campaign has been backed by
She 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 angels are around a metre in height and were commissioned from the Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in 1524, six years before Wolsey's death. "Like a lot of medieval grandees, Wolsey was planning his tomb long before he was intending to use it," said the V&A's keeper of sculpture,
While Benedetto was working on the tomb, which was meant to equal Henry VII's grand tomb in
Benedetto was then commissioned to complete the tomb for the king, reusing all the neutral bits such as the angels. But that never happened and while all three of Henry's children expressed the intention to complete it posthumously, they never did.
No one knew the angels still existed until recently. In 1994, two of the angels appeared for auction at Sotheby's, although they were sold simply as being "in Italian Renaissance style".
In 2008, the other two angels were revealed to be on gateposts at Harrowden Hall, a country house that is now owned by the Wellingborough golf club. It was then discovered that the angels sold at Sotheby's had been stolen from Harrowden Hall in 1988.
Williamson said the story of the tomb had become something of a lost chapter, although four candlesticks intended for it are known to be in Saint Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent.
"The assumption was that all the other bits had been melted down or lost forever so it is rather extraordinary that the four angels should turn up. Having these angels associated with two of the most famous names of English history, never mind 16th-century English history, is really rather astonishing."
The four angels have been reunited for temporary display in the V&A's medieval and Renaissance galleries to encourage donations.
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