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The Spirit of Wood
View Wishlist. Our Awards Booktopia's Charities. Are you sure you would like to remove these items from your wishlist? But the feature which distinguished the period was the fire mantle. It always must be the principal object in a room, and the Elizabethan carver fully appreciated this fact. By carving the chimney breast as a rule to the ceiling and covering the surrounding walls with more or less plain paneling, the designer, by thus concentrating the attention on one point, often produced results of a high order.
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Caryatid figures, pilasters and friezes were among the customary details employed to produce good effects. No finer example exists than that lately removed from the old palace at Bromley-by-Bow to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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The supporting pilasters on either side are shaped and moulded in the customary Jacobean manner and are crowned by busts with Ionic capitals on the heads. Above the shelf the large center panel is deeply carved with the royal coat of arms with supporters and mantling, and on either side a semicircular arched niche contains a figure in classic dress. The Elizabethan carver often produced splendid staircases, sometimes carving the newel posts with heraldic figures bearing coats of arms, etc.
The newels of a staircase at Highgate support different types of Cromwellian soldiers, carved with great vivacity and life. But in spite of excellent work, as for example the beautiful gallery at Hatfield, the carving of this period did not, so far as England was concerned, compare with other epochs, or with contemporary work in other parts of Europe. Much of the work is badly drawn and badly executed. It is true that good decorative effects were constantly obtained at the very minimum of cost, but it is difficult to discover much merit in work which really looks best when badly cut.
In France this flat and simple treatment was to a certain extent used. Doors were most suitably adorned in this way, and the split baluster so characteristic of Jacobean work is often to be met with. There are some very good cabinets in the museum at Lyngby, Denmark, illustrating these two methods of treatment in combination. But the Swiss and Austrians elaborated this style, greatly improving the effect by the addition of color. However, the best Continental designs adopted the typical acanthus foliage of Italy, while still retaining a certain amount of Gothic feeling in the strength of the lines and the cut of the detail.
Panelling often long and narrow was commonly used for all sorts of domestic purposes, a feature being a medallion in the center with a simple arrangement of vase, dolphins, dragons, or birds and foliage filling in the spaces above and below. The cabinets of the Netherlands and Belgium are excellent [ according to whom? These pieces of furniture were usually arranged in two storeys with a fine moulded and carved cornice, mid division and plinth. The pilasters at the sides, and small raised panels carved only on the projecting part, would compose a very harmonious whole.
A proportion of the French cabinets are decorated with caryatids not carved in the best taste, and, like other French woodwork of this period, are sometimes overloaded with sculpture. The doors of St Maclou, Rouen, fine as they are, would hardly to-day be held up as models for imitation.
A noteworthy set of doors belong to the Oudenaarde Town Hall. The central door contains twelve and that on either side eight panels, each of which is carved with Renaissance foliage surrounding an unobtrusive figure. In the Palais de Justice we see that great scheme of decoration which takes up the whole of the fireplace end of the hall. Five large figures carved in the round are surrounded by small ones and with foliage and coats of arms.
In Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, there is much fine work of the 16th century. A very important school of design was promoted by Raphael , whose patterns were used or adapted by a large number of craftsmen. The shutters of Raphaels Stanze in the Vatican , and the choir stalls in the church of St Pietro de Cassinesi at Perugia, are among the most beautiful examples of this style of carving. The work is in slight relief, and carved in walnut with those graceful patterns which Raphael developed out of the newly discovered remains of ancient Roman wall painting from the palace of Nero and other places.
In the Victoria and Albert Museum are many examples of Italian work: the door from a convent near Parma, with its three prominent masks and heavy gadroon moulds; a picture frame with a charming acanthus border and, egg and tongue moulds on either side; and various marriage chests in walnut covered with very elaborate schemes of carving. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish Spanish, or for that matter South of France work, from Italian, so much alike is the character.
The Spaniards yield to none in good workmanship. Some Spanish panels of typical Italian design are in the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as cabinets of the purest Renaissance order. There is a wonderful Portuguese coffer 17th century in this section.
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The top is deeply carved in little compartments with scenes from the life of Our Lord. In England, the great school of Grinling Gibbons arose. Although he carved many beautiful mouldings of conventional form Hampton Court Palace , Chatsworth, etc. Great swags of drapery and foliage with fruit and dead birds, etc.
For technical skill these examples are unsurpassed; each grape would be undercut, the finer stalks and birds legs stand out quite separate, and as a consequence soon succumb to the energy of the housemaid's broom. During the reigns of Louis XIV. Furniture was often carved in a way hardly legitimate. The legs, the rails of tables and chairs, the frames of cabinets, of looking-glasses, instead of being first made fcr construction and strength.
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A wealth of such mistaken design was also applied to state carriages, to say nothing of bedsteads and other furniture. However, the wall paneling of the mansions of the rich, and sometimes the paneling of furniture, was decorated with rococo design in its least illegitimate form. The main part of the wood surface would be left plain, while the center would be carved with a medallion surrounded by foliage, vases or trophies of torches and musical instruments, etc.
France led the fashion, which was more or less followed all over Europe. In England gilt chairs in the style of Louis XV. But Thomas Chippendale , Ince and Mayhew, Sheraton, Johnson, Heppelwhite and other cabinet-makers did not as a rule use much carving in their designs. Scrolls, shells, ribbon, ears of corn, etc. The mantelpieces of the 18th century were, as a rule, carved in pine and painted white. Usually the shelves were narrow and supported by pilasters often of flat elliptic plan, sometimes by caryatids , and the frieze would consist of a raised center panel carved with a classic scene in relief, or with a mask alone, and on either side a swag of flowers, fruit and foliage.
Interior doorways were often decorated with a broken pediment more or less ornate, and a swag of foliage commonly depended from either side over a background of scroll work. The outside porches so often seen in Queen Anne houses were of a character peculiar to the 18th century. A small platform or curved roof was supported by two large and heavy brackets carved with acanthus scroll work.
The staircases were as a rule exceedingly good. Carved and pierced brackets were fixed to the open strings i. Renaissance figure work calls for little comment. During the 16th century many good examples were produced those priestly statues in the museum of Sens for example. But the figure work used in the decoration of cabinets, etc.
In the 18th century cherubs heads were fashionable and statuettes were sometimes carved in boxwood as ornaments, but as a means of decorating houses wood sculpture ceased to be. The Swiss, however, have kept up their reputation for animal sculpture to the present day, and still turn out cleverly carved chamois and bears, etc. Their more ambitious works, their groups of cows, etc. Between the 17th and 18th century a florid woodcarving industry started in the Gardena valley, which is now located in the Italian province of South Tyrol.
A network of people from that valley traveled on foot to all European cities, as far as to Lisbon and Saint Petersburg, to sell the products of hundreds of carvers. Finally in the 19th century in Gardena, mainly wooden toys and dolls known also as Dutch dolls or penny dolls, were carved by the millions of pieces.
Gilded woodcarving in Portugal and Spain continued to be produced, and the style exported to their New World colonies, and the Philippines , Macao and Goa. Of the work of the 19th century onward little can be said in praise. Outside and beyond the present-day fashion for collecting old oak there seems to be no demand for carved decoration.