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Saint Paul’s Cathedral

Updated: 23 hours ago


During the Victorian era, London underwent an unmatched surge in urban development, culminating in an unparalleled building boom. This growth necessitated the construction of government establishments, churches, and homes, leading to an exceptional demand for artist-craftsmen. Large workshops, equipped with the skills to tackle contemporary architectural styles, thrived throughout the city.

Constitution and Rules
Master Carvers Association of London

It was within this vibrant backdrop that brothers Furio and Attilio Piccirilli established their presence, setting up a home studio in the historic Old Chelsea. From August 9, 1886, over the next eighteen months, they meticulously crafted no less than twelve bas-reliefs panels for the altar and reredos of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Their work concluded just in time to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Courtesy of Sarah Radford, Archivist Collections Department. The Chapter House St Paul's Churchyard,  London
Original Drawings by Bodley and Garner

Critics lauded the panels, often regarding them as some of the most remarkable additions to St. Paul’s during the nineteenth century. One review even heralded the bas-reliefs as “the most significant work of its kind erected in England since the early sixteenth century.”

However, tragedy struck in 1941 when the German Luftwaffe's bombardment of London saw two bombs devastate the cathedral's dome.

While much of the chancel lay in ruins, the Piccirilli reredos and altar miraculously survived. Yet, during subsequent reconstructions, it was deemed that the Piccirilli panels were excessively catholic for Anglican preferences. Consequently, they were either sold or, astonishingly, left on the sidewalk for anyone to claim.

Of the original works, only two panels evaded both the Luftwaffe's destruction and the subsequent preference for Anglican simplicity: "The Virgin and Child", initially positioned at the reredos' pinnacle, now resides in the north transept, while "Christ on the Cross", which once took central place on the reredos, found a new home in the Cathedral Triforium.

Executed by Attilio and Furio Piccirilli
Christ on the Cross

Decades later, some of the other panels reemerged and were auctioned off at a renowned New York auction house. In an interesting turn of events, between the completion of their iconic work and Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, the Piccirilli brothers embarked from Liverpool, crossing the vast ocean. This journey marked the beginning of a fresh chapter, with the rest of the Piccirilli family soon following in their wake.

Surviving erred, sold at action in New York

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