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Wr1ght (J.) and Hall1well: Reliquiœ Antigua. 1841.
[wurtemberg]: Die Kunst und Alterthums . . . Wurtemberg. 1899.
Ysendyck (J. J. Van): Documents classés de F Art dans les Pays-Bas.
WE may not, perhaps, be able to claim for wood sculpture that in any examples that have come down to us, throughout the ages or in any land, the general level of excellence has reached as high as that of sculpture in marble or in stone. We may not be able to produce chefs-d'ceuvre equal to the most famous of those in bronze or in the precious metals. We may have to be content to class it among the minor arts—whatever that indefinite term ought strictly to mean. Yet if we should take but one department, that of figure sculpture, whether we consider it as statuary, as smaller works in the round or as bas-reliefs, it may be fearlessly asserted that undeniable masterpieces have been produced which will bear comparison, at least, with anything in the whole range of the kindred arts. And, as we shall see, it may be claimed that, at any rate in Renaissance times, the creations of the goldsmiths' or the bronze-workers' masterpieces were often first of all conceived and executed in the highest perfection of detail by the chisel of the wood sculptor. Having served their purpose it is unfortunately true that, owing possibly to their fragile or perishable nature, it is but in rare instances that these productions have come down to us. We need not, of course, stay to consider what is obvious, that is the analogy which may be drawn between these models and those in clay or wax of the marble sculptor or bronze founder.
If we have to hew out of wood a figure of monumental proportions, the method by which we accomplish it, the canons of art which we follow, resemble those where the material is marble or stone. For work of lesser dimensions it may be compared with ivory carving. Illustrations will be given of carvings on so minute a scale that they are justly called microscopic, and yet are no trivial tours de force. Wood is not like clay or wax, a plastic, or rather, a flexible material. It is for chiselling, not moulding. It has its own special qualities. There are many varieties, and it abounds in the forests throughout the world. It is less fragile, tougher, and more amenable than stone. It has more elasticity than marble, possessing a fibrous nature in various degrees. Certain kinds differ in the closeness of their grain, some being compact, while others are loose and open. Besides differences in colour, wood possesses also many beautiful varieties in its veins and knots, but these are qualities with which we shall not be concerned. Except for tarsia work, and in certain kinds of furniture, they are inconsistent with the aims of the sculptor proper. The colour is of importance, and covers a considerable range from that approaching the ivory white in the elm, through the different shades of box which plays so important a part in our subject, to the deep jetlike black of ebony. Besides the colour, age brings to wood a mellowness and diversity of tone which may be likened to the patina of bronze and other metals. And in addition to these qualities it may be dyed or otherwise coloured. As a material the disadvantages are its perishable nature, and the liability to warp or twist, which no amount of seasoning, in some varieties, can counteract.
Considered as a medium for sculpture, wood has a message of its own, which, for those who can truly understand it, must be delivered in a certain way by which it is distinguished from the technique employed when other materials are used. It is especially suited to the expression of the grotesque, and, as its own nature would obviously suggest, to the illustration of plant-form, foliage, and vegetation in their most free-growing character. Yet it must not imitate nature, but inspire the ideas suggested by natural growth, its form, development, and ever-pushing vitality. To do this does not necessarily imply naturalism. The range is immense in the scope afforded between the suggestive conventionality of the art of mediaeval times and the mechanical imitation which distinguishes the work of the much-bepraised English decorator of the seventeenth century. The methods of the statuary and figure sculptor in wood differ from those of the marble sculptor in that he goes straight at his work, and employs no pointer. His aesthetic aims and his technique differ. He is impelled towards realism and, almost as a matter of course, towards the addition of colour. The danger in his path is a too faithful dependence on and following of the methods employed in great sculpture in stone, marble, or bronze, or even in forgings and castings in iron. He is apt, at times, to forget the limitations and special qualities of his material.
sculpture in succeeding ages, and he who first cut it for decorative purposes was the first sculptor. It would have suggested itself to the prehistoric artist as a handy material long before the bone remnant of a feast. For modelling, possibly earth in the shape of some tenacious clay would have preceded it. Then would have come the whittling of a stick or block obtained
wood was the parent of all from the nearest wood. Very soon the savage, with the natural love of man for ornament and display, would have carved the handle of his war-club with lines and curves and patterns, serving at the same time to give it a better grip.
The South Sea islander to the present day decorates his fighting canoe with a deeply incised spiral ornament, which seems to have descended with little variation from the most distant times. The earliest art was an imitation of nature, an attempt to transmit to others, in some tangible form, an impression, appealing to his imagination, of what the artist saw. From that time onwards no one will deny the interest that even uncultured efforts will excite, and the charm from the very naiveness of the expression, provided that these efforts are sincere.
Allusions to wood sculpture and to images of wood in the Holy Scriptures might, of course, be quoted to a considerable extent. In Genesis we read how Rachel stole her father's images and carried them away. In Isaiah the carpenter's and sculptor's crafts are frequently mentioned: for example, how graven images were made, how the carpenter ' marketh out with a compass' and ' maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man: that it may remain in the house' (xliv. 13); how he heweth down cedars and the cypress and the oak, which he uses for various purposes, 'and the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image' (xliv. 17). And it will not be necessary to do more than refer to such passages in ancient history, as where we learn from Pausanias about Daedalus who carved statues, fourteen centuries or so earlier, which still existed in the writer's time; and of the mixed wood and ivory statues in the temple of Athene Atlantis, the statue of Bacchus in ebony, gilt except the face, which was painted; the Jupiter in wild pearwood, the ^sculapius in willow, a head of