Updated: Jul 10
We like to believe that the Piccirilli family migrated from Massa-Carrara to New York in 1888. To make the story more interesting, we often add that they were penniless, fleeing starvation, and never looked back. Although that was often the case for most of the four million Italian immigrants who came to America in the late 1800s, it is not necessarily the case for the Piccirilli. The following notes for The Italian Factor, a documentary film in progress, concern the year Attilio and Furio Piccirilli spent in Great Britain before coming to New York. PS. I plan to update these notes with further developments after my October trip to Great Britain and Italy.
The Piccirilli Brothers in London | The Angels
The Angels were three exquisite marble reliefs adorning the reredos behind the altar at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. One of the angels plays the aulos, another the harp while a third holds a rectangular object, symbolizing the column to which Christ was bound when he endured the Flagellation. These astonishing figures were carved by Attilio and Furio Piccirilli in 1886-1887.
Attilio and Furio were born in Massa-Carrara, a region known for its marble quarries and workshops. They came from a family of sculptors who had been working with marble for generations and were graduates from the Accademia di San Lucca in Rome before coming to London. Unfortunately, the angels have since been removed and either lost or sold separately in auctions. Although a different version has it that the angles were removed from St.Paul in 1940 and stored in a crypt until 1981, when they were rediscovered and restored. According to the latter, they are now displayed somewhere in the cathedral. I guess I won’t know until I get there.
Contemporary reviews affirm that the reredos including the angels by Attilio and Furio Piccirilli, were considered one of the most remarkable furnishings introduced to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the nineteenth century. In an article published shortly after its unveiling, Garner described reredos as ‘the most important work of the kind that has been erected in England since the early part of the sixteenth century.’ St. Paul Cathedral’s main altar and reredos with Piccirilli angels 
In London, Attilio and Furio lived in a rented space in Chelsea and almost immediately went to work for Farmer and Brindley on the reredos project at Paul’s. Farmer & Brindley was a well-established architectural firm located on Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth, roughly three miles from the Piccirilli’s studio in Chelsea. The walk (weather permitting) would have taken the brothers an hour strolling past Buckingham Palace, St James’s Park, and over Westminster Bridge with a foggy view of Big Ben. It must have been quite a sight for the two ragazzi from Massa who were just coming out to the world. Attilio and Furio spent a year working on Thomas Garner’s design for the Angeles in Chelsea, producing works for private and institutional clients.
The angels were installed at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1888 as part of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. They received much praise and admiration from the public and the critics, who considered them among England’s finest works of modern sculpture.
However, after the job was completed, they found themselves back on square one, or not quite for now; they had the recommendation of one of the most prestigious architectural firms in London.
The Path to America
Furio was the first to find a job with John MacNeish, a wealthy patron from Glasgow. Later that year (1887), all the Piccirilli from Massa-Carrara, except for the oldest brother Ferruccio, joined Attilio in London. By then Ferruccio was in Alexandria with a large force of Italian volunteers that traveled to assist the resistance against the British conquest of Egypt. This was the first, but not the last time that an international conflict would find the Piccirilli brothers on different fronts, not at all an uncommon situation.
With the encouragement of John MacNeish, who presumably arranged for Attilio to exhibit two sculptures at the 1889 Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, the family left Britain for the United States where other sculptors from Massa and Carrara had already been providing their skills.