‘The reunion of the Wolsey angels is a miraculous event; they deserve to be celebrated together at the V&A as works of art.’
In this series of blogs we’re interviewing various members of staff who come in contact with the Wolsey Angels which we are currently trying to reunite, to try and find out just what it would mean to each of them if we could save the Angels
Tell us about yourself:
My name is Isabel Hardingham. I have been a Gallery Assistant at the V&A for 2 ½ years. I work on an occasional basis; my full-time job outside the Museum is Senior Bookseller at the Architectural Association Bookshop.
During a working day at the Museum I will oversee a group of galleries. My daily tasks include periodic checking of gallery content and interaction with visitors. The job affords me time to explore gallery spaces across the Museum, gaining an in-depth knowledge of individual objects. I enjoy the unpredictable nature of the role; my location within the Museum changes every shift.
I use my knowledge of the Museum’s objects to engage with visitors. I spent four years studying History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where I focused on Renaissance and Baroque Architecture for my MA degree: ‘City of Rome 1420-1667’. Architectural sculpture within the Medieval and Renaissance galleries at the V&A are a source of personal fascination for me.
This Much I know:
I regularly supervise Room 50a ‘The Renaissance City 1350-1600’, where the angels are housed. I greatly admire the two angels with a green patina. The emerald pair give a touch of colour to the gallery. The patina is due to copper oxidation, caused by prolonged situation of the pair on Wellingborough golf course at Harrowden Hall. Together, the four angles betray the chameleon-like nature of bronze.
The open-plan nature of the gallery makes the statues visible from adjoining spaces, including the Main Foyer. This arrangement is flattering and majestic. Visitors have an all-round view of the statues, this conspicuous position can only benefit their cause.
Contemplating the Wolsey Angels has exercised my art historical knowledge; In Italy, Renaissance tomb design drew inspiration from architecture. The Wolsey Angels were commissioned from a Florentine sculptor, Benedetto da Rovezzano. The angels would have been synonymously visible, standing on 9ft columns at the four corners of Cardinal Wolsey’s tomb. Therefore the union of the angels in Room 50a evokes what was intended for their original display.
An Interesting Aside:
My first encounter with the statues was dynamic and didactic. I heard the angels before I saw them. I was supervising a nearby space, Room 64. The distant whining sound of a forklift truck distracted me from my morning tasks. It transpired that a few hours later I was posted in Room 50a, the source of the noise.
When I arrived, a green statue was being raised by a forklift onto a white plinth. The gentle upward movement of the statue was mesmerising, amidst a background of energetic museum visitors. Although the area around the manoeuvre was partitioned, the statue attracted copious attention, specifically from young children.
I was immediately curious about the statue’s identity. The figure was poised in motion, taking a step forward with the grace of a goddess. However, the figure was androgynous. The green patina of the bronze, and the absence of wings prevented me from recognising it as an angel. I was compelled to question the curators surrounding the statue. I was delighted to discover the history of the angels and their potential acquisition by the museum.
Observing the installation of Museum objects is a rare experience for a Gallery Assistant. I feel fortunate to have glimpsed the painstaking process of displaying a work of art. The single angel I saw installed underwent minute adjustments over the course of the afternoon. It took several hours to secure its position for display. The two brown angels lay strapped to stretchers. Although they looked forlorn on a horizontal angle, they were destined to be cleaned and shortly returned to Room 50a.
Since that day I have witnessed the power of the Wolsey Angels to capture the imagination of Museum visitors. The explanation of their identity and combined display is not immediately obvious. For example, I am regularly questioned why the angels don’t have wings. Overall, the four statues are a source of quiet contemplation for visitors. Personally, the angels provided me with an edifying insight into Museum object installation.
Read more about the campaign here.
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