Save the Wolsey Angels: The candelabrum and the sarcophagus

With the reopening of the Weston Cast Court and the Members’ Events organised visit to St Paul’s Catherdral, we’ve been finding out a bit more about the rest of  the tomb that Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII had in mind.

Wolsey was much inspired by Pietro Torrigiano’s gilt tomb for Henry VII at Westminster Abbey,  and the Cardinal commissioned Benedetto Da Rovezzano to work on lavish tomb in the Renaissance style, of which the Wolsey Angels were to stand proudly at the four corners. As we know, the tomb was not completed during Wolsey’s life time and following his fall from grace and subsequent death King Henry VIII reappropriated  the elements of the tomb that Benedetto had thus far completed, discarding the effigy of Wolsey and other items which specifically pertained to the Cardinal.

Henry went on to commission Benedetto to extend the tomb and make it even grander in both scale and scope. The result was, among other items, the addition of four large bronze candelabra, each standing at over nine feet tall. Whereas the angels’ history and whereabouts has been lost until very recently, the candelabra are known to have been acquired by the Bishop of Ghent in the 17th century, where they remain in St Bavo’s Cathedral to this day.

This plaster cast of one of the candelabra was purchased by the V&A in 1865 from M. van den Broeck.

candelabra small

Plaster cast copy of the Candelabrum in Ghent, taken at the press view of the reopening of the Weston Cast Court

The Cast Courts opened eight years later in 1873 and at the time were known as the Architectural Courts, they were intended to bring the best in European architectural sculpture to the Victorian public. For those unable to afford a Grand Tour the Cast Courts were an invaluable teaching tool.  This photo is undated but likely to have been taken at the end of the 19th, or beginning of the 20th century, with the candelabrum clearly on display.


Candelabrum in the Cast Courts

This photo is undated but likely to have been taken at the end of the 19th, or beginning of the 20th century.

Our Members’ Events team organised two external visits to St Paul’s Cathedral to see the black marble casket which was commissioned by Cardinal Wolsey and was used as part of the memorial for Admiral Lord Nelson. Buried in 9 January 1806, King George III decreed that the sarcophagus that had been intended for the Cardinal would finally be put to use. Nelson’s body is not buried in the sarcophagus but beneath it.


What was also fascinating to come across in St Paul’s were too copies of the candelabra in Ghent. Two of them stand by the alter in the eastern end of the Cathedral.

Candelabrum in St Paul's Cathedral, a copy of the original in Ghent

Candelabrum in St Paul’s Cathedral, a copy of the original in Ghent

We were delighted to be able to offer members the chance to see these important pieces of the tomb located just a short ride from the Museum on the district and circle lines; unfortunately a trip to Belgium to see the candelabra was simply beyond our scope. So it’s a great pleasure to see the Weston Cast Court open once more and the cast of the candelabrum in Ghent back on display for all to see.


Donate online and Save the Wolsey Angels  here.


Text VAWA14 £5 to 70070


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One thought on “Save the Wolsey Angels: The candelabrum and the sarcophagus

Frank Vanhyfte:

Thank you for this article.
I can offer you a link to the website of our Royal Art Institute:
The pictures of the candelabrum in our Sint Baafskathedraal was taken by German soldiers during the 1st World War.

Frank Vanhyfte

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