Dictionary of London Immigrants |||

1506-1520 - St Peter’s (Westminster)

Sculptor Pietro Torrigiano was born in Florence on 24 November 1472. He was one of a group of youngsters who studied art under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici. A young man of violent temperament, he broke Michelangelo’s nose in a dispute (creative rivalry?) between the two and was forced to leave Florence as a consequence. He spent time in Rome assisting Bernardino di Betto (knowns as Pinturicchio) in modelling the elaborate stucco decorations in the Apartamenti Borgia for Pope Alexander VI. For some time he was active in France and the Low Countries.

By 1503 Henry VII had begun the building of his chapel at Westminster. Around 1506, Torrigiano travelled to London to offer his services and took up his residence in the precinct of St Peter’s, Westminster. He produced terracotta sculptures depicting Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Bishop John Fisher. In 1510, he was commissioned to create the tomb monument of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, working to designs by Maynard Wewick (an immigrant from the Low Countries). Two years later he started work on the grand effigial monument to Henry VII (Westminster Abbey).

He was commissioned by Henry VIII to make him a similar (but larger) monument. The work was never completed and eventually destroyed during the Commonwealth. He was also responsible for the monument of John Yonge, Master of the Rolls during the reign of Henry VIII. With these funeral sculptures he introduced Italian Renaissance style to England. Torrigiano left England in the early 1520s and spent his final years in Seville. His aggressive temper got him into difficulties with the Inquisition authorities and he died (on hunger strike) in 1528 in prison. The story of his death inspired Charles Holroyd’s painting Death of Torrigiano (c. 1886).

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