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18th Sep, 2021

Legacy of 17th century royal wood carver explored at Warwickshire's Compton Verney

THE ‘MICHAELANGELO of Wood’ is set to be celebrated at Warwickshire art gallery Compton Verney.

The legacy of 17th century wood carver Grinling Gibbons will be explored at the Kineton gallery in new exhibition – Centuries in the Making.

Gibbons’ work is usually only seen in Britain’s royal palaces, including Windsor and Hampton Court and its most important churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral – which he worked on following the Great Fire of London.

But now, examples can be seen together, including items rarely on public display such as heads of Charles II and an elm wood horse mannequin, cherubs from St Paul’s Cathedral and the famous cravat on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Centuries in the Making will also feature letters, paintings, books, and sketches from his lifetime.

Gibbons was born in Rotterdam to English parents until he moved to England around 1667. His arrival in his parents’ homeland may have been prompted by two historic events that created a wealth of new opportunities for skilled artisans – the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the Great Fire of London six years later.

While working on Thomas Betterton’s luxurious new Dorset Garden Theatre, Gibbons was ‘discovered’ by the court artist Sir Peter Lely. Gibbons’ capitals, cornices and eagles in the theatre caught Lely’s eye and he recommended his skills to Hugh May – the architect commissioned to rebuild Windsor Castle.

Finding himself presented to the king, Gibbons showed the monarch a carved wooden chimney piece, festooned with fish, shells and other ornaments.

Gibbons later worked on the new St Paul’s Cathedral and other churches destroyed by the Fire of London and eventually enjoyed a status as the royal Master Carver to a succession of kings.

Compton Verney CEO Julie Finch said: “We are delighted to present Centuries in the Making in partnership with the Grinling Gibbons Society and showcase this remarkable man’s creative intent and skill, which have continued to inspire artists in the centuries since.

“Like many of our exhibitions, this show explores the connections between historic and contemporary art works, demonstrating that age-old skills such as carving continue to this day but have found new mediums and forms of expression.

“I hope Centuries in the Making will, in turn, inspire our visitors to explore and develop their own creative aspirations, through workshops, events, activities and schools’ programmes.

“Ultimately, this exhibition is for everyone and one that shines a spotlight on craft making, its influence on so-called ordinary objects and extraordinary ones too and will inspire others to originate their own original works.”

The exhibition runs from September 25 to January 20.

Visit www.comptonverney.org.uk for more details.

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