Famous wood carvers. Grinling Gibbon
Very little is known about his early life. The name Grinling is formed from sections of two family names.
He was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and it is sometimes 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. He moved to Deptford, England, around 1667, and by 1693 had accepted commissions from the royal family and had been appointed as a master carver. By 1680 he was already known as the "King's Carver", and carried out exquisite work for St Paul's Cathedral, Windsor Castle, 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.
Bookcase carvings for the Wren Library, Cambridge
The diarist Evelyn first discovered Gibbons' talent by chance in 1671. 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.
Gibbons was a member of the Drapers' Company in the City of London, being admitted by patrimony in 1672 and called to the livery in 1685. He was elected to the court and as a warden and then stood for election to be Master in 1718, 1719 and 1720, losing to an alderman each time.
Horace Walpole later wrote about Gibbons: "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."
Gibbons is buried at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London.
Monument for Admiral Shovell in Westminster Abbey
In 1682 King Charles II commissioned Gibbons to carve a panel as a diplomatic gift for his political ally Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Cosimo Panel is an allegory of art triumphing over hatred and turmoil and includes a medallion with a low relief of Pietro da Cortona, Cosimo's favourite painter. The panel is housed in the Pitti Palace in Florence. It was recently displayed in the United Kingdom in the Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving exhibition held at the V&A from 22 October 1998 until 24 January 1999.
In 1685 the new king James II asked Gibbons to carve a panel for another Italian ally, the Duke of Modena Francesco II, brother to his second wife Mary of Modena. The Modena Panel is a memento mori for Charles II who died earlier that year and includes a funeral dirge from the play The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses by dramatist James Shirley: "There is no armour against fate; Death lays its icy hand on kings: Sceptre and crown must tumble down". It also features a medallion self-portrait of Gibbons. The panel is displayed in the Estense Gallery in Modena.
St. Peter and St. Paul church in Exton, Rutland, has a fine marble tomb by Gibbons, dating from 1685, showing Viscount Campden with his fourth wife, Elizabeth Bertie, and carvings of his 19 children.
St Michael and All Angels Church, Badminton, has a monument by Gibbons to Henry Somerset, 1st Duke of Beaufort (1629–1700). He was buried alongside his ancestors in the Beaufort Chapel in St George's Chapel, Windsor,but the monument was moved to Badminton in 1878. The monument by Gibbons is now on the north side of the chancel at St Michael and All Angels Church, Badminton, and consists of an effigy of the Duke in Garter robes, reclining on a sarcophagus and a plinth with relief of St George and the Dragon. There are twin Corinthian columns with embossed shafts, acanthus frieze, cornice with flaming urns, and the Duke's arms and supporters. At the top, 25 ft from the ground, is a tasseled cushion supporting a coronet; on the plinth are full-length female figures of Justice and Truth. Above the Duke's effigy, parted curtains show the heavenly host with palms and crowns. The Latin inscription displays the names of his family and the many offices he held.
Gibbons also made the monument for Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, a British naval hero killed in a disastrous shipwreck in 1707. Shovell's large marble monument can be seen in the south choir aisle of Westminster Abbey.
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.