[Nelson's tomb] 'This sarcophagus was originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey, but presented by his present Majesty George 3rd to entomb the body of Horatio Viscount Nelson, situated in the vault under the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, London'

The black marble sarcophagus, made by Benedetto da Rovezzano (1474-1552) for Cardinal Wolsey, in which Nelson was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, 9 January 1806. Wolsey, already disgraced but pardoned by Henry VIII and allowed to retire to Yorkshire, was arrested and sent to London in 1530 after a false accusation of treason. He died on the way at Leicester Abbey and was buried there in an unknown grave. The inscription on this drawing reads: 'This sarcophagus was originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey, but presented by his present Majesty George 3rd to entomb the body of Horatio Viscount Nelson, situated in the vault under the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, London'. The drawing shows the sarcophagus and plinth down to floor level.

Benedetto - a well-known Florentine sculptor - worked in England from 1519 to 1543, Wolsey originally being his principal patron. Henry VIII subsequently appropriated his uncompleted tomb project, commissioning Benedetto to repurpose it for himself, but it was not finished in his lifetime and while his three children (Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I) intended to complete it posthumously for him, none did so. In 1565 Elizabeth moved the existing pieces from Westminster to Windsor but many were later dispersed to raise funds in the Commonwealth period: four gilt-bronze candleholders made for Henry were obtained by St Bavo cathedral in Ghent, for example, with the sarcophagus eventually being presented by George III to hold Nelson's remains, as shown here. In 2015 the Victoria and Albert Museum, after a national appeal, acquired the four large bronze angels that Benedetto completed by 1529 for Wolsey, originally intended to stand at the corners of the tomb. These had survived long unrecognized at Harrowden Hall, Northhamptonshire, for many years as decorative features on gate pillars. Two first appeared at auction in 1994 as anonymous Italian-Renaissance-style pieces: further study of those led to the set as a whole being re-identified in 2008.

Object Details

ID: PAE5393
Collection: Fine art
Type: Drawing
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Sheers, H. Munn
Places: Saint Paul's Cathedral
Date made: Early 19th century
People: Nelson, Horatio
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Primary support: 360 mm x 249 mm; Mount: 406 mm x 560 mm
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