"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." Hilary Mantel
The Victoria & Albert Museum has now successfully raised the money to acquire four highly important bronze angels originally designed for the tomb of that son of an Ipswich butcher, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, chief advisor to King Henry VIII and once one of the most powerful men in England (and pre-eminent patron of the sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano).
The campaign was very much aided by a grant of £2 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund generously contributed £500,000, and the Friends of the V&A gave £200,000; a further substantial gift was made in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, and many other private individuals and trusts, most notably the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, also donated.
Over £87,000 was raised from a national public appeal and The Ipswich Society contributed £250 towards this important venture. Around £33,000 of that came through on-site donations and selling £1 'Save the Wolsey Angels' badges in the V&A Shop.
During the fundraising campaign, all four of The Wolsey Angels were reunited for the first time since 1988 in the V&A's Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Now that the pieces have been acquired they will undergo conservation treatment and their differing surface appearance, due to their recent history, will be investigated and harmonised. They will go back on display once the work has been complete.
The existence of the angels remained unknown until two of them appeared at auction in 1994, unillustrated and catalogued simply as being 'in Italian Renaissance style'. They were acquired by a Parisian art dealer and later the Italian scholar Francesco Caglioti convincingly attributed them to Benedetto da Rovezzano. In 2008 the remaining pair of angels was discovered at Harrowden Hall, a country house in Northamptonshire, now owned by the Wellingborough Golf Club, where all four angels once stood on top of the gateposts. English examples of Rovezzano's work are rare. A lobby is growing to bring the angels to Ipswich on loan.