This exquisite pair of 16th-century marble candle-bearing angels recalls a pair of angels in the Church of San Michele in Genoa, which were carved by the Florentine sculptor and architect Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (1507-1563). Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) in his Lives of Artists provides a detailed and extensive biography of this important Renaissance sculptor who was born in the village of Montorsoli outside of Florence. He trained as a young sculptor first in Rome and then in Florence, where his talent was quickly recognized by the great Michelangelo. Montorsoli worked for the master sculptor first as a stone cutter and ultimately on some of Michelangelo's most significant commissions. Although a Florentine in his artistic style, Montorsoli travelled throughout Italy and even to France during his career to work on numerous commissions. In 1538, he arrived in Genoa to model the statue of the famous condottiere and admiral, Andrea Doria (1466-1560), for the front of the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa. A masterful high-renaissance portrait of Andrea Doria by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547) is now in the collection of the National Gallery, London. Montorsoli's skill attracted Doria's attention and, as such, he was awarded the sculptural programme for the church of San Matteo. The extensive design included a pair of kneeling candle-bearing angels on the front altar. These angels are depicted in Lazzaro Tavarone's fresco Andrea Doria Addressing the People of Genoa (Museo di Sant'Agostino, Genoa) and are mentioned by Vasari. They were replaced in the 18th century and are most probably those now in the Church of San Michele. One can only speculate what altar this pair originally adorned, however, they undoubtedly were commissioned for a grand renaissance interior. It has also been suggested that the present angels are reminiscent of sculpture by Silvio Cosini. A pair of angels by Cosini are illustrated in Pope-Hennessy's (vol. iii, p. 282-3).
P. Boccardo, Andrea Doria e le arti: Committenza e mecendismo a Genova (Rome, 1989); B. Daschke, Fra Giovan Angelo da Montorsoli: Ein Florentiner Bildhauer des 16. Jarhunderts (Berlin, 1994) ; J. Pope-Hennessy and R. Lightbown, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, ii (London, 1964), pp. 447-8