Save The Wolsey Angels

The Wolsey Angels. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Wolsey Angels. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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We urgently need your help to raise £2.5 million and reunite the Wolsey Angels, four Renaissance sculptures that were owned by two of the most powerful men in Tudor history.

These striking bronze figures were designed to adorn the corners of a magnificent tomb for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, pre-eminent statesman and King Henry VIII’s closest advisor. Wolsey’s tomb, however, was never completed. In a tumultuous period, the angels were then seized by Henry VIII, sold during the Civil War, separated and eventually lost.

Help us secure a permanent future for the angels here at the V&A.

The angels have been lent to us for the duration of our campaign and are currently on display in the V&A’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, Room 50.

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A Brief History

Thomas Wolsey was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, c. 1475. Believed to have been the son of a butcher, Wolsey went on to become Archbishop of York, head of the Catholic Church in England, Lord Chancellor and one of Henry VIII’s closest advisors.

Wolsey’s pre-eminent position in both state and church led him to amass  vast wealth and gain unparalleled status. In 1524 Wolsey commissioned the Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano, a contemporary of Michelangelo, to design a lavish tomb in the Renaissance style as a lasting legacy to his own achievements. The angels were to stand prominently on the four corners of Wolsey’s tomb.

Wolsey’s power went undisputed for over fourteen years until 1529, when he fell out of favour with the King. Wolsey, failing to secure the divorce Henry VIII desperately sought from this first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was stripped of his titles and withdrew to York.

Charges of Treason were soon brought against Wolsey and he was recalled to London for the trial. He fell gravely ill on the journey and died at Leicester Abbey.

After Wolsey’s death, the angels and other parts of his tomb were seized by Henry VIII, who employed Benedetto to complete his own tomb on an even grander scale. However, Henry VIII did not live to see his tomb finished, either. His children failed to honour their intentions to subsequently complete it, and the angels were never united with the other elements of the tomb.

Elizabeth I moved the parts of Henry VIII’s incomplete tomb to St George’s Chapel in Windsor in 1565. During the Civil War, parts of it were sold off. Only the black stone chest is known to have remained and was later used for the tomb of Admiral Lord Nelson in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Cardinal Wolsey c. 1475-1530

Cardinal Wolsey c. 1475-1530

Henry VIII c. 1491-1547

Henry VIII c. 1491-1547

Lost and Found

During the Civil War most of the tomb’s components were lost and the angels remained undiscovered until recently. Two of them appeared at an auction in a Sotheby’s sale in 1994, unillustrated and simply referred to in the catalogue as a pair of large bronze angels in the Renaissance style. Nothing was known at this stage of their original provenance. The angels were eventually attributed to Benedetto’s tomb for Wolsey by Italian art historian Francesco Caglioti.

In 2008, the other two angels were discovered at Harrowden Hall, a country house in Northamptonshire. It later came to light that all four sculptures had stood above the posts of Harrowden Hall’s entrance gates.

Help us Now

The V&A now has the opportunity to purchase both pairs of angels for £5 million and unite them for the public to enjoy. The objects will be lent to us for the duration of our campaign and are currently on display in the V&A’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, Room 50.

Your donation, however large or small, will be crucial to safeguarding their place in the National Collection of Sculpture held at the V&A now and for the future.

We now have the chance to reunite the Wolsey angels. Help us secure a permanent future for the angels here at the V&A.

Donate online

Contact details

For any further information relating to the appeal, making a donation, making a bank transfer or Gift Aid, please contact Brodie Lyon on +44 (0) 20 7942 2790, or email

Should fundraising exceed the appeal target, or if the Museum is unsuccessful in securing the angels, funds will be used to further the objectives of the V&A.

Supported by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund

National Heritage Memorial Fund

National Heritage Memorial Fund

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Event - Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall & the Wolsey Angels

Mon 20 October 2014 19:00

Coinciding with the V&A's fundraising campaign for the Wolsey Angels, Hilary Mantel will discuss her Man Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall, which brings the opulent, brutal world of the Tudors to life.

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