In 1995, shortly after I opened my first shop on Bleecker Street, I found an Italian importer from whom I purchased this pair of angel sculptures. They are cast and carved terra-cotta, finished with a colorful polychrome finish. I knew that they were not old—and that's all I knew. They spent the fall sitting atop the shop's fireplace mantel and, on Christmas Eve, I put them into the window. They were price-ticketed and available for purchase; alas, no one seemed to want them.
For the next two years they made their annual Christmas Eve pilgrimage into the shop window, still for sale—but, to my surprise, they remained unsold. I had several price inquiries, but no one seemed willing to take the plunge.
By the third Christmas, 1998, I had grown quite fond of them—and even more fond of the Christmas Eve tradition: a procession from the back of the store to the front window. At this point I decided that I wanted the angels more than I wanted the sale; I removed the price ticket and have kept them for myself ever since.
Every year, on Christmas Eve (with a small measure of pomp and a little Christmas music), I would bring them out of storage and place them into my shop window. Once they were no longer available for sale, it seems that more and more customers wanted to buy them (in fact, a "waiting list" was formed). But they are mine now and I don't expect I'll ever sell them.
Since 1995, I have learned more about them—which has only made me love them all the more. The figures are replicas of the pair of angel-sentinels which stand guard upon San Domenico's tomb in Bologna, Italy. The male (at the right corner of the tomb) was carved in 1494 by an 18 year old Michelangelo Buonarroti. Saint Domenic, founder of the Dominican priestly order, died in 1221 and was buried in a modest sarcophagus. After he was canonized in 1234, his relics became a very popular pilgrimage destination and the Dominicans realized they needed to create a more-fitting (and crowd-friendly) resting place for their founder. In 1264, they commissioned an ambitious tomb which took 500 years to complete. The young Michelangelo contributed his angel (and two other component sculptures) at approximately the mid-way point of the tomb's construction.
Bologna—which I have not yet visited—holds many enticements for me: the food (of course), the University (the oldest in the world), the relics of San Domenico, and (you guessed it!) Michelangelo's kneeling angel. But, until I make it to La Dotta, I will gaze upon my very own copy of the angels—which I thank God were never sold.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248