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Grinling Gibbons

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GrinlingGibbonsWrenLibraryCarving.jpg
One of the many bookcase carvings Gibbons made for the Wren Library, Cambridge.

Master wood carver Grinling Gibbons (4 April 1648-3 August 1721) was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, but moved to England in about 1667.

An extremely talented wood carver, some have said that he was the finest of all time. The diarist John Evelyn first discovered Gibbons' talent by chance in 1671. Evelyn, from whom Gibbons rented a cottage near Evelyn's home in Sayes Court, Deptford (today part of south-east London), 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 Castle.

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.


He was employed by Wren to work on St Paul's Cathedral 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.

His association with Deptford are commemorated locally - Grinling Gibbons Primary School is on the corner of Evelyn Street, near the site of Sayes Court.

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