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Grinling Gibbons (4 April 1648–3 August 1721) was a Dutch-born wood carver who became particularly known for his work in England, including St Paul's Cathedralmarker, Blenheim Palacemarker and Hampton Court Palacemarker. He moved to Deptfordmarker, England around 1667, and by 1693 had accepted commissions from the royal family and had been appointed as a master carver. He is widely regarded as England's finest wood carver.

Early life

Very little is known about his early life. He was born in Rotterdammarker, 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 King 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 Cassioburymarker. 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.

The diarist Evelyn first discovered Gibbons' talent by chance in 1671. Evelyn, from whom Gibbons rented a cottage near Evelyn's home in Sayes Courtmarker, Deptford (today part of south-east Londonmarker), 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 Castlemarker.

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."

Work

He was employed by Wren to work on St Paul's Cathedralmarker 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 Housemarker in West Sussex, UK. At Petworth 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 Brusselsmarker Peter van Dievoet had collaborated with Grinling Gibbons, but went back to Brusselsmarker after the revolution of 1688.

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

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 descendent today.

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


Notes

  1. "Grinling Gibbon", Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed September 30, 2009.


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