Grinling Gibbons
Biography of Anglo-Dutch Wood Carver, Limewood Sculptor.

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Stoning of St Stephen (1680)
Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
An exquisite sculpture by one of the
finest Baroque/Rococo sculptors
of the 17th Century.

Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721)

An unusual exponent of Baroque sculpture, which verges on the style of Rococo art, the Anglo-Dutch Baroque artist Grinling Gibbons worked in all media, including marble, stone and bronze, but above all he is famous for his virtuoso wood carving, notably the delicate still life limewood carvings of flowers, fruits, leaves, small animals, and cherubs, which he sculpted for Hampton Court Palace and St Paul's Cathedral. His wood-carvings rank among the finest 17th century decorative art in Europe. Employed as Master Wood Carver to the Crown, from the reign of King Charles II to that of King George I, Gibbons also collaborated with the architect Sir Christopher Wren in numerous projects of architectural decoration. Outstanding wooden sculptures by Gibbons can be seen in Windsor Castle, Blenheim Palace, Whitehall Palace, the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the National Trust's Petworth House. In addition, his bronze statue of King James II stands outside the National Gallery, London, and a marble font can be seen in St. James's, Piccadilly. His sculptural craftsmanship is exemplified by Woodcarving of a Cravat (1690, Victoria & Albert Museum, London). Gibbons is now regarded as one of the greatest sculptors in the field of decorative works.

For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

SCULPTURE (c.1600-1750)
Alonso Cano (1601-1667)
Pierre Puget (1622-1694)
Francois Girardon (1628-1715)
Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720)
Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732)
Andreas Schluter (1664-1714)
Guillaume Coustou (1677-1746)
Louis-Francois Roubiliac (1695-1762)
Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785)
Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716-1791)

For the world's top works, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.


Few details are known about the first twenty years of Grinling Gibbons' life. He was born in Rotterdam of English parents - his father may have been the Englishman Samuel Gibbons, who worked with the famous architect and designer Inigo Jones (1573-1652) - and he learned the art of sculpture during an apprenticeship with the Quellin family of master carvers, who taught him marble sculpture, as well as wood carving. By the time he moved to England in about 1667, he was already an outstanding wood-carver, well versed in the style of Baroque art from studying realistic fruit and flower images in paintings by Flemish Masters like Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Phillips van Thielen and Daniel Seghers.

Within four years of his arrival in England, Gibbons (now married) was "discovered" by the diarist and aristocrat John Evelyn, from whom he rented a cottage near Deptford in 1671. The latter interrupted him in the middle of carving an imitation of The Crucifixion by the Venetian master Tintoretto. Evelyn duly introduced him to Sir Christopher Wren and King Charles II, both of whom gave Gibbons a large number of commissions. A mere five years previously London had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, so craftsmen with Gibbons' carving skills were in great demand. In 1672 he joined the Drapers Company and within a relatively short time he was running a busy workshop in Covent Garden, producing limewood carvings and stone sculpture for stately homes in and around the capital.



Wood Carvings in St Pauls Cathedral

A major commission given to Gibbons by Sir Christopher Wren was the choir stalls and organ case of St Paul's Cathedral. His work on the choir stalls is exquisite, and includes the Bishop's two thrones, and the seat of the Lord Mayor of London. Gibbons' workshop also completed the decoration of the original Choir Screen, parts of which can still be seen (following its dismantling in 1860), in the West End of the reorganised Choir Stalls, the South Transept Porch, and the Chapel of St Michael and St George. Gibbons executed numerous pieces of religious art for ecclesiastical organizations, and many fine examples of his work are still visible in the churches around London. He also completed a variety of projects for the King, notably in the Palace of Windsor. Individual works of art included the famous carved limewood panel, known as the Cosimo Panel, which Gibbons produced for Charles II as a gift to Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici.


Royal Sculptor

By 1680, Gibbons' status had risen to the point that he became known as the "King's Carver" to Charles II (reigned 1660-85). He continued in Royal service as a sculptor for James II (1685-88), William III and Mary II (1689-94), William III (1694-1702), Queen Anne (1702-14) and George I (1714-27). Following Gibbons' successful redecoration of the State Apartments in 1693, William III gave him the title "Master Carver".

Gibbons' trademark carving was his limewood relief sculpture of fruit, flowers, foliage, fish, birds, small animals, and cherubs, to which he applied layers of lamination to give realism from every angle. These delicate clusters could be affixed or added to paneling, walls, chimneys, even furniture - especially in churches. Now acknowledged as the greatest of all English wood-carvers, his work had a huge impact on the development of interior design during the Golden Age of the English country house (c.1700-1850). Later decorative artists, such as the furntiture craftsman Thomas Chippendale, were especially influenced by Gibbons' work. He died in 1720, at the age of 72, and was buried in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to judge artists like the English wood-carver Grinling Gibbons, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

Woodcarvings by Grinling Gibbons

Examples of Gibbons' work survive at the following locations:

Hampton Court Palace
Includes the door-frames, cornices and frieze in the King's Bedroom, as well as numerous limewood festoons of flowers, leaves, fruits and other foliage, many of which are infused with symbolic meaning, with references to Classical mythology.

St Paul's Cathedral
Includes the choir stalls, the Bishop's thrones, and the Lord Mayor's seat.

St James's Church, Piccadilly
Includes a reredos ornamented with shell-festoons, as well as an organ case decorated with angels and putti.

Petworth House
Includes the famous Carved Room with its display of intricate wooden carvings by Gibbons, featuring birds, musical instruments, baskets of flowers, and other items.

Cambridge University
Trinity College's Library has bookcases ornamented by Gibbons.

Oxford University
Trinity College's Chapel contains a reredos executed in limewood and pearwood by Gibbons.

Other exemplary carvings by Gibbons can be seen at Dunham Massey and Lyme Park in Cheshire, Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, and Belton House in Lincolnshire.

• For the history and types of sculpture, see: Homepage.
• For the evolution and development of the visual arts, see: History of Art.

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