Grinling Gibbons

Grinling Gibbons

Gibbons, Grinling, 1648-1721, English wood carver and sculptor, b. Rotterdam. From the reign of Charles II to that of George I he was master wood carver to the crown. Sir Christopher Wren employed him for architectural decoration. Blenheim, Whitehall Palace, and the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, contain masterly carvings by Gibbons. Other works include a marble font in St. James's, Piccadilly, and a bronze statue of James II outside the National Gallery, London.
Master wood carver Grinling Gibbons (4 April 1648 - 3 August 1721) was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and moved to England in about 1667.

Gibbons was an extremely talented wood carver; indeed, some have said he was the finest of all time. The diarist John Evelyn first discovered Gibbons' talent by chance in 1671. Evelyn, from whom Gibbons rented a cottage near Evelyn's home in Sayes Court, Deptford (today part of south-east London), wrote the following:

I saw the young man at his carving, by the light of a candle. I saw him to be engaged on a carved representation of Tintoretto's "Crucifixion", which he had in a frame of his own making.

Later that same evening, Evelyn described what he had seen to Sir Christopher Wren. Wren and Evelyn then introduced him to King Charles II who gave him his first commission - still resting in the dining room of Windsor Castle.

Of Gibbons Horace Walpole later wrote:

There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers, and chained together the various productions of the elements with the free disorder natural to each species.

He was employed by Wren to work on St Paul's Cathedral and later was appointed as master carver to George I. Many fine examples of his work can still be seen in the churches around London - particularly the choir stalls and organ case of St Paul's Cathedral. Some of the finest examples of Gibbons work accessible to the general public are those on display at the National Trust's Petworth House in West Sussex, UK. At Petworth House the Carved Room is host to a fine and extensive display of intricate wooden carvings by Gibbons.

His association with Deptford is commemorated locally: Grinling Gibbons Primary School is in Clyde Street, near the site of Sayes Court, and St. Nicholas' Church has The Valley of the Dry Bones, one of Gibbons' works, permanently on display.

The famous sculptor of Brussels Peter van Dievoet had collaborated with Grinling Gibbons, but went back to Brussels after the revolution of 1688.

He is buried at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London.

Very little is known about the first twenty years of Grinling Gibbons' life: He was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and it is thought that his father may have been the Englishman Samuel Gibbons, who worked under Inigo Jones, but even two of his closest acquaintances, the portrait painter Thomas Murray and the diarist John Evelyn, cannot agree on how he came to be introduced to Charles II. Nevertheless, by 1680 he was known as the "King's Carver", and carried out exquisite work for St Paul's Cathedral, the Palace of Windsor, and the Earl of Essex's house at Cassiobury. His carving was so fine that it was said a pot of carved flowers above his house in London would tremble from the motion of passing coaches. He was a Quaker.

There are still direct descendants of Gibbons in the UK today who have followed the family tradition of wood carving down through 13 generations. One male produces fine English rocking horses and works to commissioned carvings and restorations. His carvings can be viewed in Ironbridge, Shropshire, UK.

Gibbons' work very often includes carvings of peapods. A myth states that he would include a closed pod in his work, only carving it open once he had been paid. If the pea pod was left shut it supposedly showed that he had not been paid for the work. This is implausible because he would not have left his carvings (that would have taken months to complete) in situ had he not been paid.

His work (with the exception of religious carvings) also often includes a 5 petal flower like a Periwinkle or a Tudor rose. It is the crest still used by his modern descendant today.

The name Grinling is formed from sections of two family names.

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