This week I was going to write about a chap called Samuel Baxter. In 1868 he created a new kind of anchor. He sounded like a pretty cool guy. Except I didn’t find out a whole lot about him. So, instead of Samuel Baxter, I’m going to write about Grinling Gibbons instead.
Grinling was a sculptor. He was born in 1648 and ended up being one of the finest sculptors of his day in Britain. He preferred working in limewood.
His work can be seen in such places as St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Blenheim Palace. It can also be seen at the V&A. The piece below is a depiction of the stoning of St Stephen.
Stephen is widely regarded as the first Christian martyr. He upset the local Jews when he started preaching the word of Christ rather than sticking to the ancient tenets. The Jews in Charge claimed he was speaking heresy, upsetting the rules of Moses by subverting them. Stephen said he was not changing anything, that Moses predicted the coming of Christ and he was just letting everyone know.
He gave an empassioned speech, culminating in his pointing into the sky and declaring he could see Jesus standing to the right of god. This was all too much for the Jews in Charge, and the weak willed followers listening to the speech. Jewish law at the time allowed stoning for blasphemy (sounds familiar though this was almost 2,000 years ago) and no time was lost in shutting Stephen up. Actually, it’s reported that the Jews in Charge covered their ears because the blasphemy was so great. I’m thinking that this was a way to abrogate any responsisilbity for the stoning because their hands were otherwise occupied.
His Saints Day is December 26 and we all celebrate it as Boxing Day unless you’re having Christmas with us in which case we eat his pudding on the 25th.
But, back to Grinling…his name may seem a bit odd. Actually it sounds a bit Middle Earth, if you ask me. It was made up by combining two names of his ancestors. I don’t know what those names were but love to think one was Grindleberry and the other Ling Ling. Gibbons came from his father, who was English but was living in the Netherlands when little Grinling was born.
Grinling made his way to England and, somehow, met Charles II and became the royal carver. He never had a day in his life that he wasn’t working.
There is a lovely story that states that he would always carve an unopened peapod in his work, only making it open upon payment. This means that anything by Grinling with a closed pod has clearly not been paid for. I bet there’s a few closed peapods at Blenheim Palace, given they still owe us for masonary work.
Whatever the truth in that, he was clearly an amazing artist and his carving shows a delicacy of movement and beauty of depiction almost beyond the possible. As I stood admiring the St Stephen piece, I half expected the little figures to start moving. I find it extraordinary that someone could create such fine work, generally by the light of a candle and without modern technology.
And speaking of modern technology…as I was leaving the V&A, I came across a massive art installation in the room that houses the Raphael cartoons. It’s called Precision and Poetry in Motion and seems to be two aeroplane wings suspended above the gallery and slowly turning one way then the other. They are highly reflective and quite noisy.
It was created by designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby and is meant to distort the viewers sense of perspective as the huge structure slowly turns. It is quite amazing as the Raphael cartoons seem to dance across the surface of the convex pieces. However, I can’t help thinking that it would have been a lot better if it had been quiet. Still, it had quite a few people intrigued.