History of Wood Carving

The history of wood carving begins at the beginning. Wood carving is a word that refers to the process of cutting wood using either a chisel, a knife, or a mallet to create a wooden figure. This figure, often a sculpture is made solely of wood. When you take a quick glance at the carvings and sculptures made in the past, one thing is clear; wood takes center stage in art both in ancient times and today. You are the type of person who enjoys learning everything there is to know about art, you may be curious to find out the history of wood carvings in the art. According to researchers, wood carving may be amongst the first art types in the world.

Ancient Egypt


To begin the history of wood carving, you must talk about Egypt. When it comes to this art, ancient Egypt has the largest number of wooden art decorations. Researchers believe that this large number of art was because the climate in Egypt is dry.

Wood carvings anywhere else in the world would be affected by adverse weather conditions and attacks from various insects. Within a few months, nothing of the wood carvings would survive. This explains why there are so many wood carvings from Egypt around the world. For instance, in 1860, there were eleven wood carvings found hidden under the sand. It is suspected that they have been preserved there for more than 4000 years. These carvings are what wood carvers today would call relief carvings. Because of the dry climate in Egypt, wood is not as plentiful as it is in some parts of the world.

Carvers, therefore, had to make due with acacia and sycamore trees. The scarcity of these trees made them sacred to the people. This is why most of the carvings made were believed to be inhabited by spirits.

Art during this time is delicate and extremely well crafted. For instance, during the Sakkarah III dynasty age, there were artifacts found made of wood carvings. One stool from this time had legs like those of an animal. This form of art is common in Egypt for thousands of years.

The best art made in Egypt was that of a man made in the vast pyramid of Gaza era. The realism of the expression on the man’s face remains unduplicated by any other wood carving made in Egypt till date. This magnificent piece of art found in the Cairo museum. This piece of art carved from a sycamore tree has its eyes made from pieces of opaque white quartz. There is an excellent line of bronze that surrounds the lid. Transparent rock crystals are used to make its Iris.

Wood carvings are made even accurate and more exquisite in the IV, V and VI dynasties. Perhaps a greater level of detail was observed because it was believed that the spirits of the dead inhabited these statutes. Even with artists trying very hard to copy the original piece of art, none even came close to getting the kind of detail it has.

Wood carved furniture was also very common in ancient Egypt. Most of the furniture was unique with some beds and chairs having heads of animals. Some beds used support from animal limbs such as the paws of a lion.

In all the civilizations, only the most important sculptures of kings and gods were preserved and passed down to generations. Because most of the art did not survive, we can only assume civilizations also kept up with this growing art trend. Books written by Assyrians and Greeks also tell of the magnificent wood carving of those times.

Christian Wood Art

history of wood carvingThe growth and intensity of Christianity also brought with it the growth of wood carvings. This is more so in the middle ages. Most Christian artists made carvings of the cross and other religious figures from wood.

During the middle ages, art was not about beauty; it was a story the artist was trying to tell through art. This was clear because even entrance doors had small squares. Each of those squares told a story from the old and new testaments using numerous images. In the Monastery of Mount Athos, the finest fragment of the Byzantine art of the 12th centuries still preserved. In the Christiania Museum, there are beautiful designs of wood carved chairs. These are speculated to have existed between the 9th and the 10th centuries. The art is said to have been treated using a broad treatment of scroll strapwork that was suited for softwood. in the Copenhagen Museum there are similar panels.

Gothic Period

History of wood carving

When it comes to specification, design and detailed art, no other wood carver has outdone the cover of the 15th century. The art here concentrated on the colors used. All colors were used. However, parts painted white were never left plain. They had a clear decoration of delicate lines and conventional patterns.

In the art of this time, people would work directly with the craftsman, unlike today where people employ contractors to do the work. The level of detail and time taken to work on just one sculpture was too great. Only one man’s vision and talent could accomplish such delicacy. Sometimes, several parts were given to several workers. This brought so much variety and beauty to the carvings. Despite the fact that the mastermind was one person, each crafters uniqueness made the art even more beautiful. Once in a while, you will find a half-completed piece of art. This only means that most of the time, the church acted as the workplace for the many different pieces that needed work.

It is important to know that during this period, art was not about perfection; it was about making the weaknesses of a man known and embracing them.

The Renaissance Period

The Renaissance period also began impacting the great gothic art period. You may think that the change was instant. It was not. A lot of merits is owed to the transition that took place during this period. Perhaps even, this is the reason for the unfinished gothic art pieces found in the churches.

Unlike the Gothic era, art in the Renaissance period had no feeling and details were not as intimate. The best work of this time is no doubt found in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Here numerous examples of house decorations and furniture. Houses were made of wood whenever there was plenty of timber. The front part of the house gave the carver a lot of grounds to work with.

During the Renaissance period, the idea was that there was a universal man who was the center of the entire universe. This theory developed by Leon Battista Alberti was known as Leon Universal. It because of the idea that carvers adopted. While they did not change the art from being religious per se, they changed the perception of the imperfect man.

As a result, numerous wood carvings of secular individuals began to emerge. This shows you that wood, because of its longevity issues, and the fact that it requires great skills to carve it was not the first choice for many artists. Amongst the most noted productions of this time is the piece by Donatello of St John the Baptist found in Venice. It is preserved in Florence to date.

Classical Period

During the classical period, there was an insatiable taste for marble. Nevertheless, people were so focused on replicating the delicate art made by the Greeks and Egyptians. As a result of this new interest, wood carvings became more common. Doors also had decorations of art. By the 19th century, students were being taught wood art in schools. This was more popular in European curriculum based schools worldwide.

Islamic Art

history of wood carving

Islamic carvers from Egypt, Persia, and Spain are renowned for their skills and attention to details. For fittings and furniture, they executed the highest level of decorations and paneling. The most delicate and elaborate woodwork by Islamic carvers is found in mosques and private homes of individuals in Cairo and Damascus. The most common style was to cover the surface with an intricate lacing pattern. These patterns were formed using ribs. The spaces between the ribs would then be filled with wood carved with foliage. They used different wood types to emphasize the art and make it more appealing. Arabs are the most prominent of carving art in flat surfaces. The appreciation of surfaces and lines is well displayed in a gate mosque in Cairo.

Modern Wood Carving

With more and more people educated and the need to express oneself, wood carvings have become more and more democratized. There is versatility in the use of timber, the styles used and the wood combinations used. There are many carvers in modern times that are known for their brilliant works. There are numerous art galleries set up for artists who have done wood carvings. They show the difference in the way artists think, and the various ways wood can be made beautiful. Today, great art is celebrated, enjoyed and loved by most people. In churches, streets, and homes great art is seen.

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