Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Magic Hands of Grinling Gibbons

Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) is widely recognized as the finest wood carver who worked in England. If you've visited St. Paul's Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, Blenheim Palace and other major sites, you've likely seen and marveled at his extraordinary artistry. Faced with the need to earn a living, Gibbons also was concerned with practical matters, like payment. He was reputed to have included a closed pea pod somewhere in each project, and if he was paid his commission, he would return and carve it open. 

Here's a wonderful tribute, "Grinling Gibbons, Master Carver" that I recently discovered on YouTube:

The ethereal quality of Gibbons' works and the incredible depth and detail make it difficult to believe they could have been carved from wood. His carvings were so realistic, it was said a pot of carved flowers at his house in London would tremble from the motion of passing coaches. 

David Esterly has written an excellent book, "Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving", that not only is a biography, complete with numerous color photos, it also describes the techniques and tools that Gibbons used to transform limewood (in fact, two types of Tilia, commonly known as the linden tree) into a lobster, or a violin or a flower, etc. 

I became a Gibbons fan after visiting Hampton Court Palace, where I also became intrigued by the elaborate iron gates forged by Jean Tijou, and began to look for more examples of their work. A few years ago I made a special trip to Petworth House in Sussex, most famous for being the subject of numerous paintings by J.M.W. Turner, to see Gibbons' famous Carved Room. 

I'll always remember the awe and exhilaration of seeing so many of these grand carvings in one room, and marveling at the work of this sublimely talented artist. Surely his hands did have magical powers. 

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