1902 Encyclopedia > Wood Carving

Wood Carving




WOOD-CARVING. In most countries, during the early development of the plastic art, sculpture in wood took a very important position, and was much used for statues on a large scale, as well as for small works decorated with surface carving. On the whole, wood is much more suitable for carving in slight relief than for sculpture in the round, and its special structure, with bundles of long fibres, strong in one direction and weak in another, make it very necessary for the carver to suit his design to the exigencies of the material. Large curves should be avoided, on account of their tendency to split across with the grain, and deep under-cutting is objectionable for the same reason. A tough fibrous substance like wood obviously calls for a very different treatment from that which is suitable to a homogeneous substance like stone or marble. This adaptation of the design to the material is very conspicuous in the wood-carving of the finest kinds, such as the Scandinavian doorways of the 9th to the 12th centuries, the Perpendicular roofs and screens of England in the 15th century, and the richly carved panelling of Moslem countries throughout the Middle Ages.

Some woods, such as pear, lime, and more especially box, are comparatively free from any distinct grain, and may be carved almost like marble, but these woods are only to be had in small pieces, and from their want of fibre are structurally weak, and are therefore only available for decorative purposes on a small scale. It is this absence of grain which makes boxwood the material selected for engraving on wood, a form of wood-carving in which the artist needs to be as little as possible hampered by the structure of his material. In ancient times cedar wood was specially used for decorative carving, and in the East various perfumed woods, such as that of the sandaltree, have always been favourites with the carver. In Europe the oak, the chestnut,1 the fir, and the walnut have been chiefly used, and for sculpture in the round or high relief the sycamore and the plane-tree, as well as the oak.

One objection to using wood for life-sized or colossal sculpture is that large blocks are very liable to crack and split from end to end, owing to the fact that the parts near the surface dry and shrink more rapidly than the core. For this reason the mediaeval carvers usually hollowed out their wooden statues from the back, so as to equalize the shrinkage and prevent splitting. In all cases wood for carving should be very well seasoned, and it is especially necessary to get rid of the natural sap, which causes rot if it is not dried out. It is useful to soak newly cut timber in running water, so that the sap may be washed away; it is then comparatively easy to dry out the water which has soaked into the pores of the wood and taken the place of the sap.

Egyptian.—One of the most remarkable examples of ancient Egyptian art, dating probably from nearly 4000 years B.C., is a life-sized portrait statue of a stout elderly man, now in the Boulak museum. This is carved out of a solid block of sycamore wood, except that the right arm is worked separately and attached by a mortice and tenon ; the eyes are formed by inlaid bits of shell and crystal, and the whole is a most wonderful piece of life-like realism (see fig. 1). Although dating from so remote a period, this statue bears witness to an amount of technical skill and artistic knowledge which shows that long centuries of experience and artistic development must have preceded its production,—a period of which we have no remains, this statue being one of the earliest works of art which even Egypt has preserved for us. In the same museum are also some very remarkable wooden panels from the tomb of Hosi, about four feet high, carved in low relief with standing figures of men and hieroglyphs. These large slabs of wood formed part of the wall lining of the tomb. The reliefs are executed with the utmost spirit and extreme delicacy of treatment, and are highly decorative in style ; they show, moreover, a keen sense of the special treatment suitable to the material in which they are carved. These also date from nearly 4000 B.C. After the early dynasties in Egypt wood does not seem to haxe been used for sculpture on a large scale, although it was very commonly employed for mummy cases or coffins, one end carved with a human face and the rest almost phtin, except for its elaborate painted ornaments in gold and colours, applied on a thin coat of stucco laid evenly over the wood. A large number of smaller examples of Egyptian wood-carving exist in various museums, such as furniture, boxes, im-plements for the toilet, and the like, frequently decorated with slight surface reliefs of animals or plants, and graceful patterns formed of the lotus or papyrus flower treated with great decorative skill.

Greek.—Owing, to the perishable nature of the material, almost tile only ancient examples of wood-carving which have survived to our time are those from the tombs of Egypt.2 The many important pieces of wooden sculpture which once existed in Greece and other ancient countries are only known to us by the descriptions of Patisanias and various classical writers. It is probable that the earliest examples of the plastic art among the Hellenic race were the rude wooden images of the gods (GREEK), of which many examples were preserved down to late historic times. The art of sculpture, and especially sculpture in wood, is probably older than that of painting, as it requires less artistic knowledge to rudely fashion a log of wood into a rough body with rounded head, two holes for the eyes and slits for the mouth and nose, than to conceive mentally and set down on a plane surface any attempt even at the rudest outline drawing,—a process which requires a distinct act of abstraction and some notion of treating the subject in a conventionally symbolic- way. Real things have of course no enclosing line, and the representation of an object in outline conveys little or no idea to the mind of a man who is yet in a very early stage of culture. The Palladium, or sacred figure of Pallas, which was guarded by the vestal virgins in Rome, and which was fabled o have been brought by Aeneas from the burn-ing Troy, was one of these, wooden GREEK (see VESTA). A wooden figure of the Armed Aphrodite at Cythera is men-tioned by Pausanias, iii. 23, 1. Of the same kind was the wooden statue of Hermes in the shrine of Athene Polias on the Acropolis of Athens, said to have been the offering of Cecrops (Pausan., i. 27, 1); and the figure of Athene Polias itself was an ancient wooden GREEK. Another very ancient statue, carved out of cedar wood, was the statue of Apollo in his temple, dedicated 428 B.G., in the Campus Martius of Rome; this statue was called Apollo



FOOTNOTES (page 645)

(1) In many cases it is almost impossible to distinguish between chestnut and oak, especially in the medieaval roofs of England,

(2) Acacia and sycamore wood were chiefly used for the larger wood sculpture of Egypt. A wooden coffin, covered with fine Greek paintings of c. 300 B. C., was discovered in a tomb at Panticapaeum (Kertch), and is now in the museum at St Petersburg.



Sosianus, from Sosius the preefect of Syria, who presented it to the temple (Pliny, H. N., xiii. 5 and xxxvi. 4). Pausanias (ii. 24) mentions another early wooden statue at Argos,—that of Zeus Larissaeus, which was remarkable for having three eyes. A very elaborate example of cedar-wood carving enriched with gold and ivory is described by Pausanias (v. 17 to 19). This was a coffer dedicated at Olympia by the children of Cypselus, tyrant of Corinth in the 7th century B.C. It was decorated with bands in relief, with scenes from the lives of various gods and heroes. A cedar box, with two carved dogs attached to it, was found at Mycenae by Dr Schliemann, and is now in the museum at Athens. During the most flourishing period of Greek art wood was sometimes used for important plastic purposes, as, for example, the colossal statue of Athene at Plataea, carved by Phidias. The figure was of gilt or plated wood, with the exception of the nude parts,—the face hands, and feet,—which were of Pentelic marble.

Roman.—Of the wood-carving of the Roman period almost no important examples now exist; but the carved panels of the main doors of S. Sabina on the Aventine Hill are very interesting specimens of wooden relief-sculpture of early Christian times, dating, as the costumes show, from the 5th century. The doors are made up of a large number of small square panels, each minutely carved with a scene from the Old or New Testament; the whole feeling of these reliefs is thoroughly classical, though of course in a very debased form.

Mediaeval.—The most remarkable examples of early mediaeval wood-carving are the doorways of wooden churches of Scandinavia and Denmark, dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries. These are framed with great planks or slabs of pine wood, the whole surface of which is covered with rich and intricate patterns of interlacing scroll-work, mixed with figures of dragons and serpents, designed with extraordinary wealth of invention, and of the highest decorative value. The relief is very low, except where occasionally a monster’s head projects from the general level ; and yet the utmost vigour of effect is gained by the grand sweeping curves of the leading lines. These are masterpieces of wood-carving, designed and executed with the most perfect sense of the necessities of the material. Fig. 2 shows part of the architrave of a door from Aal church, Norway, dating from the 12th century. Unhappily almost the last of these interesting wooden churches have been destroyed in recent years, and merely the wrecks of their grand wooden sculpture have been occasionally preserved in some museum; some very valuable casts of these are in the South Kensington Museum.

English.—For various ecclesiastical purposes a large amount of important sculpture in wood was produced in Britain throughout the Middle Ages. At the time of the Reformation every church had its rood-screen, surmounted by a large crucifix between two standing figures of St Mary and St John. These were of wood, except perhaps in some of the richest cathedral or abbey churches, which occasionally had the rood made of silver. A very large number of churches also had retables over the various altars, with reliefs carved in wood and decorated with gold and colours. Many examples of this class still exist in Germany and Spain, but almost all the English examples perished under the iconoclasm of the Reformation.1

Another important class of wood-carving was that of large recumbent effigies from tombs, of which a good many examples still exist. One of the earliest is that of Robert, duke of Normandy, in Gloucester cathedral, illustrated in SCULPTURE, fig. 5 (vol. xxi. p. 558). It is a work of the 12th century, but was broken to pieces, and is now much restored. Like most wooden sculpture in England, it is carved out of oak. The finest example of English wood sculpture is a life-sized effigy in the south choir aisle of Abergavenny church, that of the young, knight George de Cantelupe (d. 1273). The face is a portrait of very high plastic merit, and the whole treatment of the figure, with the graceful drapery of its tunic, and its carefully carved armour, is very remarkable as an example of the very high level of excellence that was reached by the English contemporaries of Niccola Pisano. The usual treatment of these wooden figures was to cover the whole surface with a thin coating of gesso or fine stucco, in which various details or ornaments were modelled or stamped in relief, and then richly decorated with gold and colour. A similar treatment was adopted for all the wooden sculpture of the mediaeval period throughout Europe.

The church at Abergavenny, already referred to, also contains part of what once must have been a very large and magnificent example of wooden sculpture. This is a colossal recumbent figure of Jesse, and formed the lower part of what was called a "Jesse tree." Out of the recumbent figure grow a great tree, on the branches of which were figures of the illustrious descendants of Jesse’s line. Merely the stump of this tree now remains, springing from the side of Jesse, but when complete the whole tree must have reached high up towards the roof, with its network of branches forming a sort of screen behind the high altar—very rich and magnificent in effect, when the whole was perfect with its brilliant coloured decoration, and the stained glass of the large east window seen dimly through the open branches of the tree. The existing figure of Jesse, which is 10 feet long, is cut out of a solid block of oak; a figure of an angel at the head is worked out of the same piece of wood.2

Another very important application of wood-carving was for the decoration of the church stalls, screens, and



FOOTNOTES (page 646)

(1) Only three English examples of the figure of Christ on the rood are now known to exist. One of these was recently found built up in the rood-staircase of a small church in Wales. It is a work of the 14th century carved roughly but with much spirit.

(2) See a valuable monograph on the church of Abergavenny by Octavius Morgan, published by the Cambrian Archaeological Society. For an account of other wooden effigies, see Arch. Jour., xi. p. 149 and on existing rood figures, a paper by J. T. Micklethwaite in the Proc. Soc. Ant. for 1886, p. 127.



roofs, which in the 15th century in England reached so high a pitch of splendour. The development of architectural wood-carving was much slower than that of sculpture in stone. During the "Early English" period wood-work was rather heavy in style and coarse in detail; in "Decorated" times wood-work of much beauty and richness was produced, but forms more suitable to stone were still used, and it was not till the later "Perpendicular" period in the 15th century that the wood-carvers of England learnt to perfectly adapt their designs to the nature of their material. Very beautiful roofs, for example, were produced in the 14th century, such as that at Adderbury,1 but the principals are frequently constructed with large arched braces, richly moulded and very graceful in effect but constructionally weak, and very wasteful of the material. Enormous balks of oak were required to enable the large curves of the braces to be cut out of the solid. The builders of the 15th century corrected these defects, and designed their sumptuous screens, stall-canopies, and open roofs with straight lines for the leading framework,—only using curves on a smaller scale, and in places where much strain does not fall upon them. Nothing can exceed the beauty, in its own class, of the 15th and early 16th century wood-work in England ; the many fine examples that still exist give us some notion of the wealth of the country in this branch of art at a time when every church was obliged by canon law to have its rood-screen, and almost always also possessed carved oak stalls and many other fittings, such as statues and retables, in the same material.2

The rich oak work of England was no exception to the universal application of coloured decoration, and neatly every screen, roof, or choir-stall was covered with minute painting in gold and colours. The modern notion that oak should be left unpainted was quite unknown to our mediaeval forefathers ; and they, as a rule, preferred even a simple coating of white, red, or other colour to the natural tint of the oak, which would have looked very dull and heavy in tone when surrounded by the polychromatic brilliance of the floor, the walls, and the windows. In most cases, however, the wood-work was not left with its uniform ground of paint ; delicate and graceful patterns of diapers or sprigs of foliage were added on to all the main lines of the work, and covered the chief members of all the mouldings, in exactly the same way as was done with the sculpture in stone. Many of the Norfolk screens still have much of their painted ornament in good preservation3; and additional richness was gained by the groundwork of delicately moulded stucco with which the whole surface of the wood was covered before the colouring and gilding were applied. Modern "restorers" have in most cases scraped off all that remained of this brilliant decoration, and frequently no signs are now visible of this universal system of decoration. The very rich and graceful "watching gallery"4 in the abbey church of St Albans is now bare of any colouring, though it was once a very brilliant example of polychromatic decoration.

Great richness of carving is lavished on the church roofs especially of Norfolk and Suffolk. Carved bosses cover the intersections of the moulded timbers, some with bunches of delicate foliage, others carved into figures of angels with outspread wings. Other statuettes of angels often cover the ends of the hammer-beams, and the whole cornice frequently has running foliage inserted in a hollow of the moulding. All this wood-carving is usually of very high artistic merit, and combines delicacy of detail with strength of decorative effect in a way that has never been surpassed by the mediaeval artists of any country of the Continent. These magnificent roofs, which are peculiar to England, and even to certain districts such as East Anglia, are among the most perfect artistic productions of the Middle Ages.5

Norfolk, Suffolk, Devonshire, and other counties are still rich in elaborate chancel screens, carved with delicate foliage, especially in the hollows of the cornice, and light open cresting or "brattishing" along the top. The tracery which fills in the upper part of these screens is of wonderful beauty, and executed with the most minute finish and delicate moulding. The ends of the 15th-century stalls were often richly decorated with carving, and are crowned with finials or "poppy-heads" of the most elaborate and spirited design. The underside of the "misericords"6 of the monastic stalls were specially selected for minute enrichment, in spite of their very inconspicuous position. The utmost wealth of fancy and minuteness of workmanship is often lavished upon these, and their reliefs are frequently works of art of a very high order. In some cases the carver took his design from contemporary engravings by some distinguished German or Flemish artist, such as Schongauer or Albert Dürer. One of these in the chapel of Henry VII. at Westminster, representing "The Golden Age," is a work of wonderful beauty and delicacy of touch. Genre and satirical subjects are often selected : the regulars are made fun of in the churches of the secular clergy, and the vices of the secular priests are satirized on the stalls of the monastic churches. This satire is often carried to the verge of indecency, especially in the scenes frequently selected by clerical carvers to set forth the miseries of the married state.

In England during the l6th and l7th centuries little wood-carving of much merit was produced ; the oak panelling, furniture, and other fittings of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods were largely enriched with surface reliefs, coarse in execution, but often decorative in effect, and chiefly remarkable for their showy appearance produced with the minimum of labour,7 a great contrast to the rich detail and exquisite finish of the pre-Reformation work. Towards the end of the 17th century a very realistic style of wood-carving came into use, in which great technical skill was displayed but little real artistic feeling. Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) and his pupils produced the most elaborate works of this class, such as wreaths, scrolls, and friezes carved in high relief, or in the round, with fruit and flowers, modelled and carved with wonderful imitative skill, but weak in true decorative effect. These clever groups of foliage and fruit were carved in pear or lime wood, and fastened on to the surface of wall-panels, mantelpieces, and other wooden fittings. The stalls and screens in St Paul’s Cathedral are some of Gibbons’s best works, and a great deal of his realistic carving still exists at Oxford in Trinity College, at Trinity College, Cambridge, at Chatsworth, at Petworth, and in many of the great country houses of that time. Since then wood-carving has not taken an important position among the lesser arts of the country.



FOOTNOTES (page 647)

(1) The roof of Westminster Hall, of the early part of the 15th century, is in size and richness of detail the most magnificent open timber roof in the world ; it has curved braces of very wide span, cut out of enormous balks of oak or chestnut.

(2) It should be noted that in Old English the word "picture" was often used for a statue or a relief,—partly no doubt from the fact that all sculpture was decorated with painting.

(3) See Talbot Bury, Ecelesiastical Wood-Work, London, 1847.

(4) So called because from it a guardian used constantly to watch, day and night, the great gold shrine of St Alban, with its treasure of precious offerings all round it.

(5) A number of fine examples are well illustrated by Brandon, Open Timber Roofs, London, 1856.

(6) Often wrongly called "misereres."

(7) See Sanders, Woodwork of the 16th and 17th Centwies, London, 1883; and Small, Scottish Wood-Work of the 16th and l7th Centuries, Edinburgh, 1878.



Italian.—During the mediaeval period wood was often used by the greatest sculptors of Italy, especially for crucifixes and statues of saints for ecclesiastical purposes. Fig. 3 shows a magnificent example of the school of Nino Pisano, dating from about the middle of the 14th century. It is a colossal figure of the Angel of the Annunciation, said to have once belonged to Pisa cathedral, and now one of the chief treasures of the South Kensington Museum. It is very remarkable for the delicate beauty of the face, and for the sculpturesque simplicity of the folds of the drapery. The original wings were probably much larger than the present ones, which are restorations.

Many fine roods or crucifixes of life size still exist in the churches of Italy. One attributed to Donatello is preserved at Florence, in the church of S. Croce ; another by Brunelleschi still exists. Nothing like the magnificent oak open roofs and choir screens of England were made in Italy. The latter were usually of marble or of metal, and the roofs were of the plain king-post construction, usually concealed by vaulted or panelled ceilings. Towards the end of the 15th century, and especially in the first half of the 16th, wood-carving of the most elaborate and magnificent sort was largely used to decorate church stalls, wall-panelling, doors, and the like. A very important school of this branch of art was founded by Raphael, whose, designs were used or adapted by a large number of very skilful wood-carvers. The shutters of "Raphael’s Stanze" in the Vatican and the choir stalls of the church of S. Pietro de’ Cassinesi at Perugia are among the most beautiful examples of this class of carving.1 The work is in slight relief, carved in walnut with the graceful arabesque patterns which Raphael developed out of the newly discovered remains of ancient Roman wall-painting from the palace of Nero and other places.2 Fig. 4 shows a panel with carving of this school, which is always remarkable for its high finish and delicate cameo-like execution.

Spanish.—Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries was specially remarkable for the production of large and elaborate retables, carved with statues and reliefs, very like those of contemporary Germany. Alonso Cano and other sculptors frequently used wood for large statuary, which was painted in a very realistic way with the most startling life-like effect.

Danish.—Denmark also possessed a school of able wood-carvers, who imitated the great altarpieces of Germany. A very large and well-carved example still exists in the metropolitan cathedral of Röskilde.

French.—In France during the mediaeval period wooden sculpture was produced which was very similar in character to that of England, and was decorated with similar colouring. Many of the French cathedral and abbey choir stalls are works of the utmost magnificence. Those at Amiens are specially remarkable. Fig. 5 shows an example of the delicate tracery work of the 15th century. In the 16th century many wood-carvers in France imitated the rich and delicate work of the Raphaelesque school in Italy, and much wood-work of great refinement was produced, very different from the coarsely effective work of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.3 In the 18th century large sums were spent on elaborate wooden panelling for rooms, the walls being divided into series of spaces with rococo framing, formed by applied scroll-work, made up of many fantastic and in congruous bits of curved mouldings, which were usually gilt. The general effect was very inartistic, and was unredeemed by any beauty of detail. The intermediate spaces were sometimes filled with tapestry or paintings designed by Watteau, Boucher, or other popular artists.

German.—In Germany, during the 15th century, wood was used for the most important sculpturesque purposes, such as large triptychs or retables made up of many reliefs, with sacred subjects, and statues of saints,—the whole framed and canopied with rich Gothic "tabernacle work." See SCULPTURE, vol. xxi. p. 565. Fig. 6 shows a fire example of one of these retables, said to be the work of Veit Stoss, now in the South Kensington Museum. As in Ehgland the whole of the wood was covered with fine gesso, and then richly gilt and painted with vivid colours. Nothing could exceed the decorative effect of these great retables, rich with minute sculpture and carved foliage, and shining with gold and brilliant colours, soine of which were mixed with a transparent varnish medium, and applied over a ground of gold leaf, so that the metallic lustre shone through the transparent pigments over it. Stall ends and panels were enriched with carving of the highest order of merit ; life-sized human figures are often introduced at the ends of the book-rests, and large surfaces



FOOTNOTES (page 648)

(1) Bergamo, Ornati del Coro di S. Pietro dei Cassinesi, Rome, 1845.

(2) See Finochietti, Scultura in Legno, Florence, 1873.

(3) See Roumier, Sculpture en Bois . . . . l’Église des Pères Jacobins, Paris, n.d. (17th cent.) ; and Pascal, Boiseries sculptées de Notre-Dame de Paris, 1855.



are covered witb grand scroll-work, with the most graceful lines and extreme decorative vigour. Fig. 7 shows a fine example of the treatment of a large panel in the front of the stalls at Ulm cathedral, carved in unusually high relief with bold conventional foliage, full of spirit and vigorous beauty. These splendid stalls were executed in 1468 by Jörg Syrlin. During this period the wood-carving of Germany occupied a foremost position in the world, and in many places, such as Nuremberg and parts of Bavaria, great technical skill has survived down to the present time.

Switzerland and Tyrol Lave also been for long celebrated for delicate wood-carving on a small scale. The cleverly executed figures of peasants and of animals, especially the chamois are widely popular, and their production gives occupation to a large class of able artisans, who, however, rarely rise to the level of original artists, though they attain a fairly high average of excellence.

Mohammedan.—Nothing can exceed the skill with which the Moslem wood-carvers of Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Spain designed and executed the richest panelling and other decorations for wall-lining, ceilings, pulpits, and all kinds of fittings and furniture. The mosques and private houses of Cairo, Damascus, and other Oriental cities are full of the most elaborate and minutely delicate wood-work. A favourite style of ornament was to cover the surface with very intricate interlacing patterns, formed by delicately moulded ribs; the various geometrical spaces between the ribs were then filled in with small pieces of wood with carved foliage in slight relief. The use of different woods, such as ebony or box, inlaid so as to emphasize the design, combined with the ingenious richness of the patterns, give this class of wood-work an almost unrivalled splendour of effect. Carved ivory is also often used for the filling in of the flat spaces. Fig. 8 shows a fine example of this sort of work, dating from the 14th century,—part of a wall-lining in the Alhambra; special skill is shown by the way in which the Moslem carver has adapted his design to his material—avoiding curved lines, and utilizing woods which he could only get in small pieces. Another very elaborate class of Oriental wood-work is the rich ceilings and domes built up of small pieces of wood into the ingeniously intricate "stalactite" patterns, which were then covered with stucco and decorated with rich painting in gold and colours.

In the early mediaeval period very elaborate wood-work for screens and other fittings was produced for the Coptic churches of Egypt by native Christian workmen ; some of these had small panels carved in a hard dark wood, with saints and Bible subjects in low relief, very Byzantine in style. The British Museum possesses some fine examples of this carved work from a church in Old Cairo. These early wood fittings are now rapidly disappearing.1

Asiatic.—In India wood-carving of the most magnificent kind has been constantly produced for many centuries. The ancient Hindu temples were decorated with doors , ceilings, and other fittings, carved in sandal and other



FOOTNOTE (page 649)

1 See Butler, Coptic Churches of Egypt, Oxford, 1884.



woods, with patterns of extreme richness and minute elaboration. The doors of the temple at Somnauth, on the north-west coast of India, were especially famed for their magnificence, and were very highly valued as sacred relics. In 1024 they were carried off to Ghuznee by the Moslem conqueror Sultan Mahmoud, and are now lying in the fort at Agra. The gates which still exist are very fine specimens of ancient wood-carving, but they are probably only copies of the original very early doors.1

In many parts of India wood-carving of the most beautiful kind is largely used for architectural purposes, especially for the enrichment of the wooden framework of houses, and for forming delicate open lattices for windows. In the main, however, the native carvers of India excel rather in richness of effect and minute delicacy of workmanship than in general gracefulness of line and purity of design. In these respects the wood-work of Moslem carvers in India is very far superior to that of the Hindus.

In China and Japan the wood-carvers are absolutely unrivalled in technical skill ; grotesque and imitative work of the most wonderful perfection is produced, and some of the wood-carvings of these countries are really beautiful as works of art, especially when the carver copies the lotus lily or other aquatic plants. In many cases, however, as in the other arts of Japan and China, extreme ugliness of design is combined with the most perfect execution and exquisite finish, and the carvers have very little notion of the really decorative treatment of surface reliefs. The extensive use of wood or bamboo for architecteral purposes creates a wide field for the wood-carver, whose very limited sense of true beauty is to some extent made tip for by his wealth of grotesque fancy and extreme deftness of hand, which are the main characteristics of the workmen of China and Japan in all branches of art.

Wood-Carving of S'avage Races.—Many savage races, such as the Maoris and Polynesians, are very skilful in the decorative treatment of wood in slight relief. Intricate geometrical designs of much beauty and suitability to the material are used to decorate canoes, paddles, and the beams of huts. Great richness of effect is often produced by the smallest possible amount of cutting into the surface of the wood. The wooden architecture of the Maoris is sometimes decorated in the most lavish way. The main uprights of the walls are carved into grotesque semi-human monsters, enriched with painting and inlay of iridescent shell, which show much imaginative power. Other beams are carved with series of spirals, bearing much resemblance to the very early sculptured ornaments of Mycenae, Tiryns, and other Hellenic cities,—one of the many examples which show that very similar stages of artistic development are passed through by men of the most different races and age. In many cases the freshness of invention and freedom of hand shown in the carved ornament of savage races give a more really artistic value to their work than is usually found in the modern laboured and mechanical carving of highly civilized people.

In modern Europe decorative wood-carving shares the general low level of the lesser arts. The commercial spirit of the age, and the general desire to produce the utmost display with the smallest cost and labour, have reduced the art of wood-carving to a very low state.

See Williams, History of the Art of Sculpture in Wood, London,1835 ; for practical information see Bemrose and Jewitt, Manual of Wood-Carving, London, 1862; Rogers, Art of Wood-Carving, London, 1867 ; and Lacombe, Manuel de la Sculpture sur Bois, Paris, 1868. (J. H. M. )








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