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Jeremy Warren


Attilio Piccirilli and Furio Piccirilli Three Angels from the Reredos for Saint Paul’s Cathedral


ATTILIO PICCIRILLI (1866-1945) and FURIO PICCIRILLI (1868-1949), after designs by THOMAS GARNER (1839-1906) and JEAN GUILLEMIN (1836-?) Three Angels from the Reredos for Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London London, 1886-87 Marble, 73 x 40 each


Made for the reredos of St Paul’s Cathedral, 1886-87. Removed with the reredos c. 1951; Private collection; The Important Sculptures from the Bodley Reredos of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, Bonham’s New York, 29 November 2005, lots 5, 7, 9; Christie’s New York, 13 April 2016, lots 69-71.


hree finely carved marble reliefs depicting figures of angels, standing upon small clouds. Two of the angels are playing musical instruments, one an aulos (an ancient Greek pipe instrument) and the other a harp,

whilst the third holds a rectangular column, symbolising one of the Instruments of the Passion, the column to which Christ was bound when he endured the Flagellation. The angels wear sandals or are bare-footed and are dressed in loose flowing robes figures in a generalised all’antica style. The figures are carved in high relief; they have deep and sharp edges, to take account of the coloured veneer which originally covered the backgrounds of the reliefs and which has now been removed. The backgrounds are roughly scored in order to help key in the gesso bed upon which the veneer was set. The angels were carved in 1886-87 by the Italian sculptors Attilio and Furio Piccirilli for the great reredos made for Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, installed in 1888, but dismantled after the Second World War and subsequently largely destroyed. The reredos was designed by Thomas Garner, a partner in the successful architectural practice of Bodley and Garner, whilst the numerous sculptures were designed by the French sculptor Jean Guillemin. The reredos from St Paul’s Cathedral One of the great monuments of Christendom, the present St Paul’s was built



to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1732), following the destruction of Old St Paul’s in the Fire of London in 1666. After nine years of planning, construction of Wren’s masterpiece began in 1675 and was only completed in 1708. Not all of the interior decorations and furnishings that Wren had planned were completed during the architect’s lifetime. One important element, about which there has long been much debate, concerned the architect’s intentions for the high altar of the Cathedral. Wren submitted designs for a marble altarpiece for the east end of the Cathedral, with tall twisted columns. A model survives made to his design in c. 1696, but Wren’s altarpiece was in the end never built and his precise intentions have remained unclear.1 By the mid-nineteenth century,

1 Newman 2004, pp. 229-30, fig. 157.

St Paul’s had come to assume a more prominent position in British national life, leading to debate about how this role should be reflected in the Cathedral’s furnishings and its liturgies. Generally at this time, congregational worship, in which the clergy and the congregation are united within the same broad space, was becoming ever more popular in churches across the country, and the clergy at St. Paul’s was keen to accommodate this trend. ❡❡❡

The sheer size of St Paul’s meant however that an altar at the east end, as proposed by Wren, would have been a long distance from the people of the congregation in the space under the cathedral’s dome, where services were regularly held from the late 1850s, let alone in its nave. In 1883, a committee was established to advise on the introduction of a new high altar, which it was intended could become the main focal point within the interior of the cathedral. George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), the leading exponent at this time of the Gothic Revival in church architecture and furnishings, was selected for the project. It was however his partner Thomas Garner who provided the designs for a magnificent reredos, a tall structure which would stand at the entrance to the apse of the Cathedral and in front of which would stand the altar. Garner’s original design, which survives in the archives of St. Paul’s Cathedral, was for a tall pedimented structure, in which there were envisioned just four angels, one 7

at the base of each of the four massive twisted columns placed on either side of the altarpiece of the Crucifixion. This tall structure was felt to be wrongly For the story of the design and construction of the reredos, see Sladen 2004, pp. 252-54; Patton 2013; Hall 2014, pp. 340-43; Hall forthcoming. 2

proportioned, so two lower wings were added to flank the central altarpiece. Work on the reredos was undertaken by the firm of Farmer and Brindley and was completed in 1888, whilst the new high altar was installed in 1891.2 ❡❡❡

Thomas Garner’s reredos, a masterpiece of design and execution, was one of the most remarkable of the furnishings introduced in order to embellish St Paul’s Cathedral in the later nineteenth century. In an article published shortly after its unveiling, Garner described it as ‘by far the most important work of the kind that has been erected in England since the early part of the sixteenth 3

Garner 1890, p. 167.

century.’3 Around 75 feet (20 m.) high, it consisted of a large carved central altarpiece depicting the Crucifixion, with Christ on the Cross surrounded by flying angels, whilst below stood figures of Mary and Saint John, Mary Magdalene, another one of the Marys and a Roman soldier, presumably the Centurion Longinus. This main altarpiece structure was surmounted by a tympanum and an aedicule containing a statue of the Virgin and Child with, at each side, figures of Saints Peter and Paul and, at the summit, the Resurrected Christ. On each side of the altarpiece were curved wings containing doors that gave access to the apse behind, with standing figures of the Angel and the Annunciate Virgin surmounting the pilasters at each end of the wings. A decorative frieze ran the whole width of the wings and the central section of the reredos, providing a horizontal counterbalance to the extreme verticality of the central section. The frieze was embellished with large sculpted narrative reliefs of the Nativity and the Resurrection and, between these and in the centre beneath the Crucifixion, the Entombment. A series of twelve reliefs featuring figures of standing angels were distributed along the frieze, those nearest the Entombment bearing instruments of the Passion, whilst the angels flanking the reliefs on left and right played musical instruments. ❡❡❡

The beautiful and dignified composition of the reredos was fully matched by the 8


magnificent and rich materials of which it was made. These were described by Garner in his article: ‘The entire Altar Screen is executed in white Parian marble, with bands and panels of Rosso Antico, Verde di Prato, and Brescia marble. The enrichments are generally gilt. The steps in front of the Altar are of white marble, 4

Garner 1890, p. 168.

and the pavement of Rosso Antico, Brescia and Verde di Prato like the reredos.’4 ❡❡❡

The erection of the reredos and the casting and assemblage of its many elements were undertaken by the firm of Farmer and Brindley, established in 1851 by William Farmer (1825-79), later joined by William Brindley (18321919). Farmer and Brindley were Bodley and Garner’s contractors of choice for this type of work, as they enjoyed a very high reputation for the best-quality architectural sculpture work, mainly in marble, but also in materials such as wood. The Cathedral’s Verger Robert Green recorded in his diary the start of work on assembling the reredos in the Cathedral on 9 August 1886 and the 5

Sinclair 1909, pp. 344-45.

6 The Times, 26 January 1888, p. 109; Illustrated London News, 31 March 1888,p. 341.

service of dedication of the completed altarpiece on 25 January 1888.5 According to contemporary reports in the Times and the Illustrated London News,6 the sculptural elements were designed by a French sculptor Jean Guillemin, who also undertook the carving of some of the most important elements, including the Crucifixion scene and the statue of the Virgin and Child. Guillemin must also have undertaken the carving of the very beautiful panels with the Nativity, Entombment and Resurrection, executed in a dignified neo-Gothic style, quite different to the graceful Italianate mood of the angels. These on the other hand were the work of two brilliant young Italian sculptors, Attilio and Furio Piccirilli, who in 1887 when they joined the teams working on the St. Paul’s reredos, had just arrived in London from their native Carrara.

The Piccirilli Brothers

Attilio and Furio Piccirilli are famous today as American sculptors, master Fig. 1 (opposite): The Bodley/ Garner reredos in situ in St. Paul’s Cathedral


carvers responsible for creating some of the most important monuments in the United States of America, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.




Their father, Giuseppe Piccirilli (1844-1910), was originally from Rome but moved to Massa-Carrara in the early 1860s, to establish a sculpture workshop. Giuseppe and his wife Barbara had seven children, six of them boys, all of whom assisted in some way in the workshop and eventually worked in the family business. Quickly recognised as possessing the greatest talent, Attilio was sent to Rome to train at the Accademia di San Luca. ❡❡❡

In 1887 Attilio and his brother Furio left Italy to start a new life in Britain. For the Piccirilli in Britain, see Lombardo 1944, pp. 39-41; Berresford 2009, p. 99. 7

Fig. 2: The Piccirilli Brothers

They rented a studio in Chelsea, almost immediately finding work with Farmer and Brindley on the reredos project.7 Furio subsequently spent a period in

Glasgow, working on decorative architectural sculpture for a wealthy patron, John MacNeish. Attilio on the other hand found it difficult to find further work in London. Late in 1887, the entire Piccirilli family left Mass-Carrara and emigrated to London, Attilio sculpting a portrait head of his younger


Lombardo 1944, p. 40, Pl. 2.

brother Getulio in the weeks following their arrival.8 It continued to prove difficult to find work though, especially now that the whole family had to be provided for. With the encouragement of MacNeish (who presumably arranged for Attilio to exhibit two sculptures in the 1889 exhibition of the

A ‘Study of a head’ (no. 1009) and ‘A Cock Fight’ (no. 1025). Billcliffe 1990-92, III, p. 375. 9


Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts9) the family decided to leave Britain and to emigrate definitively to the United States, where it was felt better

prospects were to be found. They arrived in April 1888, meaning that Attilio and Furio in fact only spent a very brief period of around one year in Britain. ❡❡❡

Whilst the first months in New York were no easier for the family than they had been in London, work gradually began to flow. The Piccirilli brothers eventually became one of the most successful sculptural practices in the USA, with enormous studios in the Bronx and a steady stream of public and private commissions across the country.10 Among their numerous works in

New York were the Firemen’s Memorial of 1910 on Riverside Drive and 100th Street and the Maine Memorial of 1912-13 at the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park.11 Attilio Piccirilli’s single most famous work is however the statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.,

10 For a survey of Attilio Piccirilli’s career, see Lombardo 1944; Conner and Rosencranz 1944, pp. 143-50.

Fig. 3: The colossal statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., designed by the architect Daniel Chester French 11 Bogart 1989, pp.86-87 and pp. 194-204.

designed by the architect Daniel Chester French, for whom the Piccirilli did much work, and which was completed in 1922. Although Attilio in particular made independent sculptures, much of the Piccirilli’s work in fact involved the translation into marble of models or designs by others. 15

The Angels

Whilst the angels for the St Paul’s reredos, carved presumably from drawings by Thomas Garner, perhaps worked up into models by Jean Guillemin, fall into the category of works executed by the Piccirilli to other artists’ designs, they are refined and extremely beautiful carvings in their own right, in which the brilliance of their sculptural technique is readily apparent. Eager to make new careers in the country to which they had just arrived, Attilio and Furio Piccirilli must have seen the opportunity to work on the Saint Paul’s reredos as a great opportunity to advertise their skills as marble carvers. They evidently put every effort into the carving of these reliefs, which possess an elegance and a lively individualism that reflect the general quality of Bodley and Garner’s reredos, well above the average of late Victorian church sculpture. There were originally twelve angels distributed along the frieze of the reredos, with those angels carrying instruments of the Passion clustered around the bases of the altarpiece. In the 2005 New York sale of sculpture from the reredos, discussed below, eleven reliefs of angels were sold. Using the images from the catalogue and evidence from photographs, it is possible to propose a hypothetical original sequence for the twelve angels, from left (north) to right (south): 1) Left of Nativity relief: Angel playing aulos (2005 sale, lot 7) 2) Right of Nativity relief: Angel playing harp (not in 2005 sale) 3) Under far left column of altarpiece frame: Angel holding column (2005 sale, lot 9) 4)North face of near left column of altarpiece frame: (?) Angel with Nails (2005 sale, lot 6) 5) West face of near left column of altarpiece frame: Angel holding dice and Christ’s cloak (2005 sale, lot 4) 6) South face of near left column of altarpiece frame: (?) Angel with Spear (2005 sale, lot 2) 7) North face of near left column of altarpiece frame: (?) Angel holding Sponge and Lance (2005 sale, lot 10) 16

8) West face of near left column of altarpiece frame: Angel holding Crown of Thorns (2005 sale, lot 1) 9) South face of near left column of altarpiece frame: (?) Angel holding hammer (2005 sale, lot 8) 10) Under far right column of altarpiece frame: Angel holding scourge (2005 sale, lot 3) 11) Left of Resurrection relief: Angel playing harp (2005 sale, lot 5) 12) Right of Resurrection relief: (?) Angel in prayer (2005 sale, lot 11) The Angels were originally set against veneer backgrounds using a substance, possibly some form of early plastic, that imitated rosso antico marble. It was also employed for the backgrounds of the three narrative reliefs in the reredos frieze. The Angels were also partly gilded, on their hair, wings, the insides of their garments and the attributes that they hold. The gilding of these figures features in a charming story in the unpublished memoirs of the Arts and Crafts architect and designer Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942). Ashbee recalled that, as a young man, he had been among those engaged on the reredos project: ‘I had worked in St. Paul’s, on Bodley’s Reredos. Indeed I once lost my head on one of the high scaffoldings, and should have lost my life but for the wit of a shrewd wise foreman who, seeing I might never climb down as I had climbed up the ladder said; ‘I want your opinion, Sir, as to the gilding of one of the angels. If you keep your eyes fixed between the rungs you can’t miss it.’ Angels may help whether they be imaginary, or merely carved in a Lambeth factory which one is mocking in one’s heart. This I discovered when I got once again safely to the bottom rung of the ladder.’ (C. R. Ashbee Archive, King’s College London, CRA/3/1, fol.55) Dressed in somewhat eclectic all’antica robes, imaginative interpretations of historicising styles, the angels are classic products of the Aesthetic Movement, the fashionable cult of beauty that was the epitome of style in Britain during the 17


latter decades of the nineteenth century, and which saw women in particular dressing in looser, less formal clothes. The rather female-looking angel holding the column is dressed in a sort of peplos, a type of dress worn by women in ancient Greece. The angel with the harp also wears a peplos-like garment, one which has though in the billowing exuberance of its folds lost almost all semblance of the original Greek costume. The angel with the aulos on the other hand wears a rich and stately long robe that swells out towards the back. The reredos, its reception and later history

From the time of its erection and unveiling, the new reredos in St. Paul’s proved controversial. Objections came from those who considered that the reredos had failed to reflect the original intentions of Sir Christopher Wren, in so far as these were understood. But the more vociferous complaints came from Protestants who regarded the work as threatening and idolatrous, in sum too “Roman” for installation in a prominent position in one of the great centres of the Anglican communion. Thus, for example, one correspondent wrote to the Times shortly after the dedication of the reredos describing it as ‘a confused mass of coloured marbles, gilding, “Madone”, angels, saints, doors leading nowhere, and Latin inscriptions; a jumble suggestive both of Versailles and the Church of the Miracoli at Venice…’12 In the summer of 1888 the Bishop of London was presented with a petition demanding that he initiate proceedings

12 Letter from George Cavendish-Bentinck, The Times, 11 February 1888, p. 6.

against the cathedral clergy under the Public Worship Regulation Act, on the grounds that the reredos ‘tends to give rise to feelings of superstition’.13


Hall, forthcoming.


Despite this agitation on the part of more doctrinaire Protestants, the structure seems to have been popular with the broader public and was quickly accepted as part of the fabric of the building. In 1889, it was reported at a meeting of the English Church Union that ‘There has been nothing done in the way of architectural work of late years that had attracted so much attention as had the St Paul’s reredos. Photographs of it were sold everywhere, and the teaching power of the reredos must be very great.’14

14 Henry Longden, in The Church Times, 28 June 1889. Cited by Hall, forthcoming.


By the time of the Second World War the reredos had come to be considered part of the essential fabric of the Cathedral. However, the Blitz was to lead, if indirectly, to its eventual destruction. On the night of 9 October 1940, in the course of a German bombing raid on London, a bomb crashed through the roof of St. Paul’s Cathedral, landing almost directly on the high altar of the cathedral, just in front of the reredos. Whilst the altar was largely destroyed, the reredos suffered only minor damage, largely to the tympanum of the altarpiece and to the pinnacle figure of Christ, the right arm of which was broken off. ❡❡❡

It has often been stated that the Cathedral authorities’ subsequent decision to remove the reredos was prompted by its damaged state but, in reality, such damage as it had sustained could easily have been repaired. The need to consider repairs to the damage the Cathedral had suffered during the years of the Second World war allowed the Cathedral a new opportunity to rethink the old question of Sir Christopher Wren’s vision for the High Altar. ❡❡❡

On 31 May 1948, the Dean of St. Paul’s announced that the reredos was to be removed, following a report by the cathedral’s architects, in large part because it was felt that the structure did not honour the intentions of Sir Christopher Wren. The reredos was dismantled in 1951, to be replaced by the present High Altar with baldacchino by Stephen Dykes Bower, completed in 1958, which aimed to come closer to Wren’s vision.15 15

Burman 2004, pp. 261-63.


Few people today would argue against the decision to replace the Bodley/ Garner reredos with Dykes Bower’s widely admired baldacchino altar, which with its echoes of Saint Peter’s, Rome, certainly reflects at the least part of Wren’s vision for his great building. In contrast, the treatment of the reredos by the authorities of the Cathedral is considerably less creditable. In effect, Bodley and Garner’s great creation became a sorry victim of the widespread denigration of Victorian art and architecture during the decades following the Second World War. What happened is poorly documented, but it seems clear 20


that Dykes Bower, who had in fact in his report for the Cathedral expressed his admiration for the reredos, ensured that it was carefully dismantled and the elements stored. In the early 1970s, the Cathedral authorities appear to have decided to clear out the remains of the reredos and to have done this in a furtive and clumsy manner. Some elements were sold cheaply to the art trade, whilst other sections were laid out in front of the Cathedral, allowing members of the public to help themselves to elements.16 In 2012 the architect Sir Donald Insall 16 Dalya Alberge, ‘St Paul’s launches fight to save its fallen angels’, The Times, 22 April 1996, p. 5.

sold three marble decorative panels from the reredos which he had acquired at this time. Sir Donald commented that ‘It was extraordinary good fortune that our Caretaker at the time spotted these exquisite pieces among the debris outside the Cathedral.’17 Just two elements were retained for display in the

Figs. 4,5,6: The Angel with a Column in situ c. 1950, as illustrated in Bonham’s catalogue in 2005 and in Christie’s catalogue in 2016

Cathedral, the Crucified Christ which was fixed to a new cross, and the statue of the Virgin and Child from the pinnacle of the main altarpiece. ❡❡❡

Seventeen surviving elements from the reredos were sold at this time to an Essex17 Fine English Furniture, Bonham’s London, 21 November 2012, lot 216.

based art dealer John Brandler, who lent them to Cartwright Hall Museum in Bradford, before exporting them to the United States in 1996. In 2005 the elements were sold in an auction at Bonham’s New York. As well as eleven of the reliefs of angels, the other surviving elements in the sale included the standing figures of Saints Peter and Paul from the top of the main altarpiece, and two seated angels, also from that part of the reredos, as well as a couple of isolated


pieces of decorative stone work.

We have no idea what happened to such major elements of the reredos as the remainder of the Crucifixion scene, the three large narrative reliefs from the frieze, or the figures of the Virgin and the Angel of the Annunciation. These may have been destroyed or have slipped onto the market, but they seem for the moment irredeemably lost. On the other hand, the fact that the series of reliefs of angels largely survived is evidence of their perceived artistic quality. ❡❡❡

The red veneer used by Farmer and Brindley for the backgrounds of the angels was described in the Bonham’s catalogue as ‘faux rosso antico’, a description that was also used when the present three reliefs were sold again at Christie’s New York in 2016. This, as well as the slightly precarious condition of the veneer by 2016, might have encouraged the belief on the part of the buyer that it was modern and, hence, the decision to remove it from all three reliefs, along with their original gilding. Comparison of the auction catalogue photographs with a photograph of the Angel with a Column, taken before the dismantling of the reredos, demonstrates that both the red background and the gilding clearly formed part of the original conception. ❡❡❡

This treatment has of course changed the appearance of the reliefs considerably. They are now less obviously parts of the great reredos created for St. Paul’s Cathedral but, conversely, they may be more easily appreciated as marble carvings in the Italian tradition as well as outstanding examples of sculpture in relief. The angels from the St Paul’s reredos may also be seen as key early works by two highly talented sculptors who would, through their subsequent work , have a major impact on the appearance of New York, Washington D.C. and other American cities.


Bibliography Berresford 2009 Sandra Berresford, ed., “Sognando il marmo” Cultura e commercio del marmo tra Carrara, Gran Bretagna e Impero (1820-1920 circa), Ospedaletto-Pisa 2009 Billcliffe 1990-92 Roger Billcliffe, The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts 18611989. A Dictionary of Exhibitors at the Annual Exhibitions, 4 vols., Glasgow 1990-92 Bogart 1989 Michele A Bogart, Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890-1930, Chicago/London 1989 Burman 2004 Peter Burman, ‘Decoration, Furnishings and Art since 1900’ in Keene/Burns/Saint 2004, pp. 258-68 Conner/Rosencranz 1989 Janis Conner and Joel Rosenkranz, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture. Studio Works 1893-1939, Austin 1989 Garner 1890 Thomas Garner, ‘The New Altar Screen in St Paul’s Cathedral’, Transactions of the St. Paul’s Ecclesiological Society, 2 (1886-1890), pp. 167-70 Hall 2014 Michael Hall, George Frederick Bodley and the later Gothic Revival in Britain and America, New Haven/London 2014


Hall forthcoming Michael Hall, ‘”Protestants to the Rescue!” the high-altar reredos in St Paul’s Cathedral’, forthcoming Keene/Burns/Saint 2004 Derek Keene, Arthur Burns and Andrew Saint, eds., St Paul’s. The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004, New Haven/London 2004 Lombardo 1944 Josef Vincent Lombardo, Attilio Piccirilli. Life of an American Sculptor, Chicago 1944 Newman 2004 John Newman, ‘Fittings and Liturgy in Post-Fire St Paul’s’ in Keene/ Burns/Saint 2004, pp. 220-32 Patton 2013 Shanna M. Patton, ‘Designs for the Altar of St. Paul’s Cathedral: The Comparative Visions of Sir Christopher Wren and Thomas Garner’, Oxford Open Educational Resources, 2013 (https://open.conted. ox.ac.uk/resources/documents/designs-altar-st-paul%E2%80%99scathedral-comparative-visions-sir-christopher-wren-and) Sinclair 1909 William Macdonald Sinclair, Memorials of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London 1909 Sladen 2004 Teresa Sladen, ‘Embellishment and Decoration, 1696-1900‘ in Keene/Burns/Saint 2004, pp. 233-56


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