V&A raises millions to buy Cardinal Wolsey angels from golf club

Rosemary Ayim
By Rosemary Ayim March 19, 2015 12:09

A Northamptonshire golf club is in line for a windfall after the V&A revealed its campaign to raise £5 million to buy sculpted angels that were designed for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey has been successful.

Amazingly, the four Renaissance sculptures ended up on Wellingborough Golf Club’s gateposts for years, where the club had no idea of their history or worth and thought they were made of lead.

It was only after two were stolen and ended up in an antiques shop in Paris, where they were spotted by an academic, that the long process of tracing them back to the club started.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund pledged £2.5 million for the angels, and the V&A launched a public appeal to raise the other £2.5 million.

Wolsey was buried without ceremony in 1530 after falling out of favour with Henry VIII, and the bronzes he had commissioned from Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano were appropriated by the king. However, Henry VIII did not see the tomb finished, his three children intended to complete the memorial posthumously, but also failed to do so. Elizabeth I moved parts of the tomb to Windsor in 1565, where they stayed for 80 years. During the Civil War elements of the tomb were sold to raise funds and until recently only the black stone chest, later used for Admiral Lord Nelson’s monument in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, and four bronze candlesticks, now at St Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, were thought to have survived.

Interest in the angels has been boosted by the novels, and recent television series they inspired, of Hilary Mantel, who backed the V&A’s campaign to raise the money to buy them.

wolf hall paul townsend

Filming of the recent BBC production Wolf Hall. Image by Paul Townsend


The museum has announced that its financial target has been met through donations from individuals and trusts. Around £33,000 was given in on-site donations and the sale of £1 ‘Save the Wolsey Angels’ badges in the V&A shop.

Martin Roth, director of the V&A, said: “The Wolsey Angels are a vital part of our national history and artistic heritage. We are very grateful to everyone who contributed to our fundraising appeal to ensure these outstanding sculptures, which were thought to be lost, are reunited and preserved at the V&A for future generations.”

Fiona Talbott, head of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “Many of us have been enjoying the BBC’s production of Wolf Hall which makes it even more fitting to celebrate the purchase of these extraordinary statues. Congratulations to the V&A for being so tenacious in securing their future. We feel proud to have played a part too and hope that the Cardinal Wolsey’s angels – thanks to their current high profile – will attract many admirers both now and in the future.’

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, added: “The unexpected opportunity to reunite and display these four beautiful works of sculpture, so intimately connected with the course of British history, could not be overlooked. The Art Fund was happy to support the acquisition and is immensely pleased that the public campaign has been so successful.”

Previously, David Waite, Wellingborough’s general manager, said: “They were just assumed to be a couple of lead statues. I suppose thefts like that happened all the time and we didn’t think that much of it.

“After they were stolen we moved the other two into the hall for security and that’s where they stayed until someone wandered in and suggested they might be of national significance.

“We’re not counting our chickens but it would secure the future of the golf club.”

Although the statues have sold for £5 million, it is thought that due to laws surrounding art theft, the club will receive about £2.5 million before taxes are taken into consideration.


Rosemary Ayim
By Rosemary Ayim March 19, 2015 12:09
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