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none the less so in later Gothic times and throughout the period of the Renaissance. If, at the end of the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth, the prevailing fashion as exemplified in the choir stalls of that period is frankly French, and if the designers and carvers of so many magnificent choirs and retables have French, and, especially, Flemish names, they worked in conjunction with Spanish artists. But the art they display is a borrowed and not a national one, and so it must be considered. Yet it is Spanish.
In England we are met by even a greater penury of existing examples than elsewhere, and although in Gothic times the fabrics of our great cathedrals, abbeys, and parish churches attest that we possessed a national art in no way inferior to other countries—in some styles taking the lead—yet the destructions of the reformers and Puritans have left us in wood sculpture almost nothing. Practically, we can show only the choirs and choir stalls, chancel screens and bench ends, and the splendid roof-work, so peculiarly English. Happily, these still exist in not inconsiderable numbers.
Without the aid of wood few arts would be possible, and in itself its peculiar qualities make it applicable to every form of sculptural decoration. The sole fault with which we can reproach it is the liability to decay. No material is more amenable to the chisel or graver. The varieties are very numerous, and its own natural colours and capability of high polish demand, of necessity, nothing additional. It is no part of the plan of this book to enter generally into the natural history of the various kinds of wood, but a few brief remarks concerning those which have been generally used in decorative sculpture will not be out of place. Oak, of course, has ever been the most popular, especially amongst ourselves in mediaeval times. In the German schools, also, of the end of the fifteenth century—at Calcar, Xanten, and other great centres of the northern division, oak was almost exclusively used. In France the northern schools remained faithful to it long after some softer woods were employed in more southern regions. Indeed, one may say, generally, that oak is an infallible sign of northern workmanship, walnut of the provinces south of Burgundy. But there is no rule without exceptions, and in later times, in the schools of Philibert de l'Orme, Pierre Lescot, Jean Goujon, Germain Pilon or Ducerceau, in the lle de France, and in the provinces bordering on the Loire, walnut was exclusively used. So also with regard to the Lyonese schools in Burgundy, Auvergne, and Dauphind, oak furniture is to be found. But walnut was certainly the fashionable wood of the Renaissance, of the times of Louis xn. and Francis 1. Nearly all the great Burgundian pieces of this period are in walnut. Again, in Italy, the same wood with its beautiful grain and rich colour and hard close texture, besides possessing a variety peculiar to the country, and in great profusion, was the favourite for her magnificent choir stalls. Fig-, tree was occasionally used in Italy, and corkwood, for its lightness. There are, for instance, a life-sized statue of the flagellation in the church of S. Giovanni al Monte, Bologna, and a St. Sebastian in the Salting collection at South Kensington of the first-named wood, and crucifix figures to which reference is made later on, in corkwood. Walnut, indeed, has always been a favourite, especially in southern countries. The Spanish wood-carver was naturally partial to it, for it has always been common in his country, and oak on the contrary scarce and necessary to be imported. The early Spanish carvers, even long after the Moors had been driven out, used the wood of the cedar, cypress, pine, and other resinous varieties; the pine of Cuenca being particularly esteemed.
The immense pine forests of Germany will, of course, prepare us to find this wood largely employed, and we shall come across some remarkable panels in the museum at Kensington of the south Bavarian school of the fifteenth century. From the nature of the grain and arrangement of the fibres it was best adapted for flat or not very high relief; for coffers and panels rather than statues and statuettes. We may recall also the Scandinavian doors previously described.
Boxwood has peculiar qualities which distinguish it from almost every other wood. Unfortunately it is not to be obtained in pieces of any but comparatively small dimensions. Notwithstanding this, the examples of figure work, in boxwood, to which we shall come presently, are masterpieces which stand in a distinct category, and from this point of view are not to be surpassed amongst the whole range of sculpture which forms our subject. Some, indeed, will hold their own in comparison with the statuettes of bronze and other figure work of the periods to which they belong.
Beech, elm, yew, and chestnut—if not so commonly selected—might all be illustrated by examples. Mahogany was not known in mediaeval times, nor did the sculptor appear to have any leaning towards the woods with ornamental grains such as maple or satinwood. For marquetry these, of course, would appeal, but the prevailing fashion of adding colour to all sculpture in whatever material, to which attention will be drawn in a succeeding chapter, would have been one reason, amongst others, for neglect. Sycamore and acacia, tamarisk, cedar, rosewood, and, for inlay, sandalwood were favourite woods of the sculptor in ancient Egypt, and, in the days of the highest civilization of Greece and Rome, we learn from such writers as Pausanias the lavish use of ebony, cypress, cedar, oak, sycamore, yew, willow, ash, beech, maple, hornbeam, plane, mulberry, lemon, palm, holly, poplar, walnut, and pear. But, indeed, every existing wood has doubtless served the purpose more or less at one time than another. Lime is a soft wood, pliable to the tool, not given to splintering, and taking a stain well, that we shall meet very frequently indeed in the work of the Franconian sculptors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: in the figure work of Veit Stoss and Riemenschneider and their contemporaries. In England we find it very commonly used for the imitative festoons of garlands, fruit, and bird-life of Grinling Gibbons and his school. The white description which they selected is, however, peculiarly subject to the attacks of insects, and the gum or glaze with which the finished work was covered preventing their escape, the result was that in numerous cases the whole interior was eaten away, leaving mere shells or skeletons. Pearwood also was a favourite with the sixteenthcentury statuette carvers. It is light, close grained, moderately hard, and not given to warp or split. Harrison, in his description of English woods and marshes in Holinshed's Chronicles, written in 1577, speaks of houses formerly built of sallow, willow, plum, hardbeam, and elm, in which men were content to dwell, and that 'oak was in manner dedicated wholly unto churches, religious houses, princes' palaces, noblemen's lodgings, and navigation: but now all these are rejected, and nothing but oak any whit regarded.' Bois dislande is frequently mentioned in old French and Flemish contracts. According to the statutes of the corporation of charpentiers huchiers of Paris in 1382, this and walnut, ebony, pear, elm, maple, guelder, and some others not easy to identify, were much used. Regulations are very precise, showing the esteem in which the craft was held, and how fine work was only to be practised by masters. Care was taken that the wood should be of the finest quality, thoroughly seasoned, without knots or shakes, and that green ebony should not be used instead of black, nor pear, nor other wood, instead. Yet of this hard lasting ebony I do not know that a single mediaeval example could be found. The statutes of corporations are all of the same character, lengthy and minute in detail, and the same evidence of care in selection of material and quality of the work will be found in such contracts as that for a rood-loft for a remote Cornish parish which elsewhere is here quoted.
The question of the preservation of wood-carvings from decay is an important and interesting one. The maladies to which the different kinds are liable vary, of course, according to the several species: so also do the attacks of the enemies to which they are subject. Chestnut was disliked and condemned by Wren, who considered that it became rotten sooner than oak. Yet the famous roof of Westminster Hall is made of it. The question is one of technical interest. It will suffice to mention that in 1855 a Royal Commission was appointed to consider it. The evidence and report may be consulted with profit.
It must be admitted, of course, that we have few remains of wood sculpture to be compared with the figures of Chartres, of Reims, or of Amiens, but it may be remembered also that until full sixteenth century, when the classical turn in taste was becoming
than any other. It was the medium above all others of appealing to the popular imagination and, after all, popular taste in those days represented the nation to a greater extent, in point of numbers and concentration of classes, than it does now. Learning and an appreciation of the refinement which characterized the imagery of the thirteenth century would have been confined to the few. This ultra-refinement was, no doubt, for the court and the higher clergy. But the mass of the people had provided for them a system of
overmastering, this art exercised