1902 Encyclopedia > Carving


CARVING. To carve (Anglo-Saxon, ceorfan) is to cut, whatever the material; in strict language carving is sculpture. The name of sculptor is commonly reserved for the great masters of the art, while that of carvers is given to the artists or workmen who execute subordinate decorations, e.g., of architecture in marble or stone. The word is also specially applied to sculpture in ivory and its substitutes, and in wood and other soft materials.

True ivory is the tusk of the elephant, but other inferior Ivory kinds are produced by the walrus, narwhal, and hippo- carvim1 potamus. Long before the art of metallurgy was generally known, among the remotest pre-historic races, carvings on ivory and on reindeer horn may be mentioned in evidence of the antiquity of this kind of art. A piece of mammoth ivory with a rude engraving of a mammoth is preserved in the Museum of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Fragments of ivory and horn, carved with excellent representations of animals, found in caves in the Dordogne in France, may be seen in the British Museum.

Coming to historic ages we find abundant evidence of the skill of the Egyptians in ivory carving. Two daggers inlaid and ornamented with ivory, in the British Museum, are attributed to the age of Moses. In the same collection are chairs of the 16th century B.C. inlaid with ; two boxes in the shape of waterfowl and a small figure may perhaps be attributed to the 11th. A number of carvings in ivory and bone of these and later dates are preserved in the Egyptian galleries of the Louvre in Paris (Labarte, Arts Industriels, p. 186).

Ivory is mentioned among the imports of Solomon (1000 B.C.) His throne of ivory overlaid with the purest gold, and the ivory house of King Ahab, are specially recorded ; the words " ivory palaces " in the 45th psalm are more exactly rendered "wardrobes"—chests of wood ornamented with ivory. Horns, beuches, and beds of ivory are mentioned in the prophetical books. Amongst the Hebrews, as amongst other ancient nations, sceptres, thrones, and other insignia of royalty are often spoken of as made of ivory. These objects were frequently inlaid with precious stones.

Mr Layard discovered many fragments of carved ivory in Nineveh, so brittle from desiccation that they were boiled in gelatine to enable them to be safely handled. The most interesting (dated by Mr Layard about 950 B.C.) are two small tablets representing seated figures of Egyp-tian character with a cartouche bearing hieroglyphics. Parts of the decoration were " enamelled with a blue substance let into the ivory " (rather with slices of coloured vitreous pastes, not true enamel), and the whole ground of the tablet was originally gilded, remains of the gold leaf still adher-ing to it (Nineveh and its Remains, ii. p. 9).

The Greeks made many precious objects in ivory even in the earliest times. Phidias and his successors (in the 5th century B.C.) made "chryselephantine" statues, i.e., of ivory and gold, and the practice was continued, probably, down to the Christian era. A great number of such statues are described by Pausanias. The most celebrated were the colossal statue of Athene at Athens, nearly 40 feet, and that of Jupiter at Olympia, about 58 feet high. They were the largest and most precious works ever executed in the material under discussion It has been stated by writers of various dates, from Pliny downwards, that the ancients had methods of flattening and joining ivory so as to make it cover large surfaces, but modern experiments of the recipes given have not verified these statements.

A few remains of ivory carvings found in Etruscan tombs in Italy are preserved in the British Museum ; others have been collected by Signor Castellani. Roman ivories earlier than the 4th century are very rare. There are, however, in various collections in England and on the Continent carved ivory tablets, called consular diptychs, meant to fold up and to contain writing on the inside. They were used by the Roman consuls, and sometimes sent by them as presents to great personages. Half of one of the most beautiful of these works is preserved in the Kensington Museum (No. 212-65), the other half is in the Hotel de Cluny in Paris—this piece is of the 3d century. The chair of St Maximian, covered with ivory panels elabo-rately carved (6th century), is still in good preservation at Ravenna.

Ivory carving was carried on at Constantinople during the early Middle Ages. Charlemagne did much to en-ocourage and establish the arts in Northern Europe. Ivory book-covers carved with Gospel subjects, pyxes, or _small boxes for church use, caskets, horns, and other valuable objects were carved in ivory during his reign, and those of his immediate successors. They were set in gold or silver, and sometimes with precious stones. An example of Anglo-Saxon workmanship (10th century; is preserved in the Fitzwilliam Gallery in Cambridge. Combs both of ivory and bone of the Roman and Anglo-Saxon -periods are not unfrequently found in tombs in England. Carved folding tnptychs, shrines, and altar-pieces con-taining sacred subjects in bas-relief, or figures of saints, with rich and elaborate architectural details according to the style of the day, often decorated with gold and colour, were made in great numbers from the 10th to the 16th century, in most countries of Europe. Crucifixes and images of the Virgin and the saints, made during these ages, are often graceful and beautiful examples of small sculpture. To these should be added the pastoral staves carried by bishops and abbots, and numbers of objects for secular use, such as horns, combs, caskets, hilts of arms, and the like, carved in ivory for persons of wealth, through-out the Middle Ages. They reached their highest perfec-tion during the 13th and 14th centuries. The religious subjects carved in ivory by Spanish artists were of great excellence before the 16th century.

The great sculptors of the Renaissance are credited, though often without sufficient authority, with many works in ivory still preserved in public galleries. The scholars of Cellini and Raphael certainly carved with great skill in this material. Examples attributed to the masters them-selves are shown in the galleries of Munich and Vienna. Germany, Flanders, Holland, and Spain were distinguished for ivory carvers during the 16th century. Augsburg and Nuremberg were especially renowned in this respect. The carved drums of vases and tankards, bas-relief plaques or panels set in silver gilt and gold are to be seen in the galleries of Munich, Vienna, and Berlin. Dagger and knife hilts and sheaths, powder-flasks, and statuettes of admirable execution, continued to be made in ivory down to the middle of the 17th century. There are good examples in the Green Vaults in Dresden and in many other collections. Several German princes, as well as Peter the Great, carved and turned ivory in the lathe, and remark-able specimens of their work may be seen in the Green Vaults.

Among the best Italian ivory carvers of the 16th century may be reckoned the pupils of Valerio Vicentino and Bernardo of Castel Bolognese. A fine bas-relief by Alessandro Algardi, of the 17th century, is preserved in the Basilica of St Peter in Rome. Other well-known artists were Cope and Francois Du Quesnoy, called the Fleming (1594-1644), the latter of great eminence ; Jacob Zeller, a Dutchman ; Leo Pronner of Nuremberg ; Van Obstal of Antwerp, settled in France ; Leonard Kern and Angermann of Nuremberg (17th century); Barthel (died at Dresden 1694), who excelled in carving animals; Leonard Zick of Nuremberg (17th and 18th centuries), who carved puzzle balls, like those of the Chinese; Stephan Zick, who carved eyes and ears, examples of which may be seen in the Green Vaults ; Belthasar Permoser, a Bava-rian settled in Dresden (1650-1732); and Simon Troger (18th century), a carver of great skill in ivory who added fanciful details in brown wood; examples of his composi-tions are preserved in the Kensington Museum, the Royal Museum of Turin, and the Green Vaults of Dresden.

Ivory carving has long been cultivated in the East. In many parts of India, Bombay especially, ivory is carved, pierced, and inlaid with great skill. The Bombay carvers borrowed this art from the Persians. The Chinese carve slabs of ivory and entire tusks with elaborate compositions of figures and landscape. They carve and pierce puzzle balls, cut one inside another out of single pieces of ivory. The skill of the Japanese is still greater. Their groups of small figures, animals, shells, insects &c, show a power of representing animal life, and a dexterity in inlaying ivory with metals and other substances probably never surpassed. If the art of both nations is somewhat grotesque, their power of hand has had but few equals in ancient or in modern times.

A modern school of ivory carving, that has become a small trade, is established at Dieppe in France. Many crucifixes and religious images are produced there of con-siderable merit.

Implements and furniture have been carved in wood Wooa from very ancient times. The perishable nature of the carving material forbids the hope of finding remains of such remote antiquity as we have in ivory, bone, and horn. It cannot be doubted, however, that the weapons and utensils of the stone age were fitted to handles of wood and bound on with thongs of hide or animal sinews. Most ethnographical collections possess paddles and weapons made by more recent races in a primitive state of knowledge and cultiva-tion. Often these utensils are diapered over in patterns of much elegance,—those, for instance, of Mexico, New Zealand, and Polynesia. The figure-head of a New Zealand canoe of brown wood carved in graceful convolutions, . resembling the designs of the Scandinavian artists, was exhibited amongst the collections of the duke of Edin-burgh.

Pausanias states that all the most ancient races carved statues out of woqd, and mentions specially those of Egypt. According to Sir G. Wilkinson wooden statues continued to be erected in Egyptian temples till the times of the later Pharaohs. Sycamore was the wood in general use for furniture, and cedar for mummy cases, which are carved into the shape of the mummy, painted and gilt. Timber was imported into Egypt, and rare woods were inlaid both in furniture and statues (see Birch, Trans. Hoy. Soc, iii. p. 172). A bas-relief in hard wood, attributed to the 6th, 7th, or 8th dynasty (above 2000 years B.C.), is preserved in the Louvre.

The Hebrews of the age of Moses seem to have been I more skilful as metallurgists than as wood carvers, but under Solomon, the sanctuary of the temple was lined with cedar, and the walls elaborately carved with figures of cherubims, palm trees, and open flowers all gilt. Two cherubims, 10 cubits high were carved in olive, a very durable wood. Solomon imported ebony and other rare woods for his musical instruments and furniture.
Wood was used by the Greek sculptors before the 5th century B.C., and Pausanias enumerates many statues made of different woods, some of several kinds of wood extant in Greece in his time (bk. ii. and vii.)

The Romans, who used bronze and marble for their furniture in later times, were still curious in woods, which were carved or polished and reserved for many purposes, and when of fine grain were extravagantly valued. Tacitus speaks of the rude wooden idols of the Germans.

The fact that a great part of Europe was covered with oak, pine, and other forests made the use of timber universal during the Middle Ages ; many memorials remain of the skill both of constructors and carvers in oak and other woods. Churches, houses, even entire cities were of timber; many of these remain in Northern Germany, e.g., in Hanover, Hildesheim, and Brunswick, in towns of Brittany and Perigord, and in Blois, Coventry, Chester, and other cities of France and England. Beam ends, brackets, door heads and gables were often effectively carved. Two doors, remains of churches in Norway (of the 11th or 12th century), entirely constructed of timber, carved in a large-grained pine wood into a complicated but graceful composition of dragons and serpents, were exhibited at South Kensington in 1868. The most elaborate and artistic carved work of the Middle Ages is to be found in the shrines or "retables" placed on altars, some of small chamber size, others 20 to 30 feet in height. They were made in countless numbers in Germany, Spain, France, Flanders, and England. The principal space of the shrine was filled by figures standing or seated under elaborate carved tabernacle work,—sometimes with complete pictorial compositions representing well-known legends of the saints. Generally these figures were gilded and painted. Often the shutters on the sides were painted with illustrative 3ubjects, frequently painted on both sides, so as to be seen whether the shrine was open or shut. Many Lutheran churches in Nuremberg retain these ornaments exactly as they stood in Catholic times. The 15th and 16th centuries were prolific in these rich structures. A famous triptych by Hans Bruggemann (1515) is preserved in the cathedral of Schleswig, an earlier one by Michel Pacher of Brauneck at Wolfgang-sur-le-Lac near Ichel. To the triptychs should be added the stall work of the 14th, 15th, 16th centuries, as in the cathedrals of Cologne, Amiens, and Ulm, and in many English churches. Another class of carvings may be studied in the vast roofs, such as that of Westminster Hall; the roofs of many churches in Norfolk, and many halls in the old colleges and Tudor mansions are decorated with carved figures and heraldry.

In the 16th century the great cities of Italy—Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Ferrara, Urbino, and others— abounded in richly carved gilt and inlaid furniture, chairs, wardrobes, chests — such as contained bridal trousseaux—mirror frames, caskets, even bellows. They were of walnut, cypress, cedar, ebony, and other woods,— inlaid with ivory, agates, and ornaments of hammered silver. Rich and beautiful examples of such work are pre-served in the museum at South Kensington, the Hotel de Cluny, the Kunst Kammer of Berlin, and other collections. The 16th century stall-work of many Venetian churches, the panel-work of the old rooms in the Louvre in Paris, the fire-places seen in many old 16th century palaces, specially that of the Palace of Justice in Bruges, are examples of admirable decorative carving on a large scale.

The Spanish wood-carvers during this period had a just celebrity. Their religious imagery is admirably de-signed, true to nature, and devotional, pathetic, and tender in expression. They coloured the figures up to nature, but nothing was lost in this process. The great Renaissance painters and masters of Germany practised wood-carving of great excellence. Wohlgemuth of Nuremberg, Albert Durer, Veit Stoss, Ludwig Krug, Peter Flotner, &c, carved classical subjects, portraits in medallions, delicate bas-reliefs on draught men made of box and other hard woods, which are to be seen in many collections. They carved as often in hone stone, and modelled medallions, statuettes, and minute busts in wax, sometimes coloured up to life.

A rilievo on hone stone by Albert Durer is preserved in the British Museum; others on wood in the united collec-tions in Munich, on wood and hone stone by Lucas Kranach the painter in the Kunst Kammer, Berlin, on wood with the monogram of Hans Schauffin in the same collection, one attributed to Lucas Van Leyden the painter in the National Library, Paris. The Augsburg artists worked more generally in wood only. Rosary beads of box, \ to | of an inch in diameter, some made to open, carved with minute figure subjects of great excellence, may be seen in South Kensington and in other collections. During the same period minute Scripture subjects were carved in box on crosses and small triptychs by the monks of Mount Athos, the inheritors of the old Byzantine art.

In the 16th century curious minute works, entire compositions, were carved by Properzia de' Rossi in peach stones. One is preserved in the Museum of Turin. A cherry stone on which a " gloria " of saints is carved is preserved among the Florentine gems. Leo Pronner, already named, also carved microscopic work on cherry stones.

A carver of great skill, Grinling Gibbons (1650-1721), founded a school of decorative carving in England which survived till near the end of the last century. The facility of execution in carving soft woods for gilding, to make frames, carriages, and furniture was very great dur-ing the earlier years of the last century. The taste was best in Italy and most extravagant in France. A revival of classic taste began with the reign of Louis XVI., and at about the same time in England, influenced by the brothers Adam and by many excellent carvers of furniture and decorative wood-work.

The carvings of the mountain villagers in Switzerland and the Tyrol are spirited, and are well executed, with simple tools, generally in pine wood. What has been said of the Indians, Persians, Chinese, and Japanese regarding ivory-carving, applies equally to their skill in carving and inlaying wood.

In most countries of Europe the art has been much displaced in recent times by moulded work in various materials and by metal-casting.

See Haskell's Ivories at South Kensington ; Gori Thesaurus Diptychorum; Lebarte's Arts Industriels ; Du Sommerard, Arts Somptuaires; Viollet-le-Duc's Mobilier ; Lubke's History of Art; Kugler'a Hand-book; Pollen's Ancient and Modern Furniture and Woodwork. (J. H. P.)

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