1902 Encyclopedia > Sculpture > English Sculpture - 16th Century; Torrigiano.

(Part 8)

English Sculpture - 16th Century; Torrigiano.

At the beginning of the 16th century sculpture in England was entering upon a period of rapid decadence, and to some extent had lost its native individuality. The finest series of statues of this period are those of life-size high up on the walls of Henry VII.'s chapel at Westminster and others over the various minor altars. These ninety-five figures, which represent saints and doctors of the church, vary very much in merit: some show German influence, others that of Italy, while a third class are, as it were, " archaistic " imitations of older English sculpture (see fig. 7). In some cases the heads and general pose are graceful, and the drapery dignified, but in the main they are coarse both in design and in workmanship compared with the better plastic art of the 13th and 14th centuries. This decadence of English sculpture caused Henry VII. to invite the Florentine
Torrigiano (1472 M522) to come to England to model and cast the bronze figures for his own magnificent tomb, which still exist in almost perfect preservation. The recumbent effigies of Henry VII. and his queen are fine specimens of Florentine art, well modelled with life-like portrait heads and of very fine technique in the casting. The altar-tomb on which the effigies lie is of black marble, decorated with large medallion re-liefs in gilt bronze, each with a pair of saints—the patrons of Henry and Elizabeth of York—of very graceful design. The altar and its large baldacchino and reredos were the work of Torrigiano, but were destroyed during the 17th century. The reredos had a large relief of the Resurrection of Christ executed in painted terra-cotta, as were also a life-sized figure of the dead Christ under the altar-slab and four angels on the top angles of the bal-dacchino; a number of fragments of these figures have recently been found in the "pockets" of the nave vaulting, where they had been thrown after the destruction of the reredos. Torrigiano's bronze effigy of Margaret of Richmond in the south aisle of the same chapel is a very skilful but too realistic portrait, apparently taken from a cast of the dead face and hands. Another terra-cotta effigy in the Rolls chapel is also, from internal evidence, attributed to the same able Florentine. Another talented Florentine sculptor, Benedetto da Maiano, was invited to England by Cardinal Wolsey to make his tomb; of this only the marble sarcophagus now exists and has been used to hold the body of Admiral Nelson in St. Paul's Cathedral. Another member of the same family, named Giovanni, was the sculptor of the colossal terra-cotta heads of the Caesars affixed to the walls of the older part of Hampton Court Palace.


560-1 There were once no less than 107 statues in the interior of this chapel, besides a large number on the exterior ; see J. T. Micklethwaite in Archaeologia, vol. xlvii. pi. x.-xii.

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