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Grinling Gibbons

Firmly acknowledged as the best English wood carver of all time, the work of Grinling Gibbons can be seen in St Paul's Cathedral Quire, Hampton Court Palace and many stately homes in England.

Grinling Gibbons was born in 1648 in Rotterdam, Holland to English parents. His father, Samuel Gibbons, was thought to have worked under the great architect Inigo Jones. It was probably in Holland that Grinling Gibbons began working as an apprentice, learning to carve in limewood, a skill which he later used in his English work.

He moved to York in England and then to Deptford near London in 1667. He was "discovered" by diarist John Evelyn while working on a carved relief of the crucifixion, modelled on a painting by Tintoretto.

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Gibbons' work was so outstanding that Evelyn used his influence to introduce the young artist to the king, Charles II.

Although personal information on Grinling Gibbon's life is scant, it is known that he had a wife, Elizabeth, and in 1678 the first of 12 children was born.

Gibbons' initial work was on religious objects but by the mid 1670s he had turned to producing non-ecclesiastical decoration, including the fruits and leaves for which he became so well known. He worked initially on two estates: Holme Lacy in Herefordshire and Cassiobury Park in Hertfordshire.

By 1685 Gibbons had a flourishing business in Covent Garden where he produced wonderful carvings in wood, marble and stone. He also worked on commissions for Christopher Wren, including the organ casing and choir stalls at St Paul's Cathedral.

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His most prestigious works were the Cosimo panel given to Cosimo III de Medici by Charles II and carvings within the dining room at Windsor Castle, St Paul's Cathedral and Blenheim Palace. He also worked on both Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Both Burghley House and Petworth House in Sussex have some excellent examples of his intricately carved work, along with a magnificent carved ceiling at Fawley Court in Henley-on-Thames, one of only three remaining.

Gibbons specialized in producing carved overmantles above fireplaces and trophy panels. In his later years he was appointed Master Carver to George I. In 1707 he worked on a beautiful marble monument for Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, which can be seen in the south aisle of Westminster Abbey.

Grinling Gibbons is buried at St Paul's Church, known as the "Actor's Church" in Covent Garden. His family has inherited his skills and continues to make a living in the woodcarving trade. A carved periwinkle or Tudor rose flower is still used by his descendants as a signature, as Grinling Gibbons often did. You may want to look for that emblem as you admire his many works.

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