Turnerelli, Peter (1774–1839), sculptor, was born in Belfast, the son of James Turnerelli, also a sculptor. His paternal grandfather, an Italian refugee named Tognarelli, was banished from the papal states (c.1730) for his involvement in a conspiracy; Peter's father, who married an Irishwoman, changed the name to Turnerelli. In 1787 the family moved to Dublin, where Peter studied in the Dublin Society schools, and later entered a catholic seminary in Saul's Court run by the Jesuit priest, Thomas Betagh (qv). In 1793, the year after his mother's death, he abandoned his studies for the priesthood and went to London, where he studied art at the Royal Academy (RA), and trained under the sculptor Peter Francis Chenu. Within two years Turnerelli won a medal from the academy for best piece of sculpture. On completing his studies, he visited Rome, where he was especially influenced by the softly described neoclassicism of Antonio Canova. Returning to England, he found a patron in Lord Heathfield, for whom he made a bust of Sir Francis Drake. Appointed to instruct the English princesses in sculpting, Turnerelli lived at court for three years (1797–1800). He executed busts of all the members of the royal family, including King George III, for whom he also designed, but never completed, an equestrian statue; the model now stands in Sir John Soane's Museum, London. In 1801 Turnerelli was appointed sculptor-in-ordinary to the royal family and was offered a knighthood, which he declined. He exhibited busts of Princess Charlotte and the Rev. Arthur O'Leary (qv) at the RA in 1802, where he continued to exhibit till 1838. Abandoning eighteenth-century conventions, he has been credited as the first sculptor to represent his sitters in contemporary dress rather than classical drapery. In 1809 he carved the jubilee statue of George III, now in Windsor castle. While in Ireland in 1812 he executed a bust of Henry Grattan (qv) – supposedly completed in eleven hours – now held in the NGI. In 1814 Emperor Alexander of Russia visited Turnerelli's London studio, and ordered bust replicas of various works for the Hermitage collection in St Petersburg.
A fashionable and socially prominent regency portraitist, Turnerelli had numerous aristocratic clients, including two of the victorious commanders at Waterloo: Arthur Wellesley (qv), 1st duke of Wellington, and the Prussian General Blücher. His statue of Robert Burns, depicting the poet at a plough, was chosen for a memorial at Dumfries, Scotland, in 1816. Invited by Louis XVIII of France to the Tuileries palace, Paris, he executed a portrait of the king (1816). He made the nuptial busts of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold in 1816; on their wedding morning the couple went to his studio for a final sitting. On the accession of George IV in 1820 Turnerelli again declined a knighthood. He exhibited at the RHA (1828–35), and modelled a bust of Daniel O'Connell (qv) (1829), of which 10,000 copies were reproduced in miniature. After much persuasion, he succeeded in making a bust of Bishop James Warren Doyle (qv) in 1828. His many religious and funerary commissions included memorials in Canterbury cathedral and Westminster abbey; a white marble monument to Fr Betagh (1816) in the church of SS Michael and John, Essex St. West, Dublin; and the high altar of St Mary's pro-cathedral, Marlborough St., Dublin (1823), modelled on the renaissance tomb of Pope Eugene IV by Isaia da Pisa, in San Salvatore in Lauro, Rome. A monument to Archbishop John Troy (qv) in the pro-cathedral, likewise inspired by the Eugene IV tomb, is also attributed to Turnerelli.
He married firstly Margaret Tracy (d. 1835); they had a son, the artist, traveller, and conservative politician Edward Tracy Turnerelli (1813–96). He married secondly Mary O'Connor, a relative of the earl of Clare, with whom he had a daughter. He died on 18 March 1839 at his home on Newman St., London, and was buried in St John's Wood graveyard. After his death the Manzoni firm purchased the contents of his gallery, and erased his signature from moulds used to make numerous plaster reproductions; accordingly, many of his works are attributed to other sculptors, such as Joseph Nollekens, Sir Richard Westmacott, and Sir Francis Chantrey. Turnerelli's bust of R. A. C. Newenham was shown at the National Exhibition of the Arts, Manufactures, and Products in Cork (1852). His busts of George III, Wellington, and Chief Justice Charles Kendal Bushe (qv) were included in the Irish Industrial Exhibition, Dublin, in 1853. Queen Victoria lent the Wellington to the Loan Museum of Art Treasures held in Dublin in 1873.