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Woodcarving - The Stoning of St Stephen
  • The Stoning of St Stephen
    Gibbons, Grinling, born 1648 - died 1721
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The Stoning of St Stephen

  • Object:

    Woodcarving

  • Place of origin:

    England (carved)

  • Date:

    ca. 1680 - ca. 1710 (carved)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gibbons, Grinling, born 1648 - died 1721 (wood-carver)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved limewood and lancewood relief, with later paint

  • Museum number:

    446-1898

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 54, case 8

This limewood and lancewood panel is carved by the sculptor Grinling Gibbons in ca. 1690-1710. The panel was a decorative object, designed to be displayed on a wall. In this respect, it was like the famous panel in the Pitti Palace, Florence, which was made by Gibbons as a diplomatic gift from Charles II to Cosimo de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Although the subject is biblical, it may well have been intended for a secular context, rather than as a devotional piece. No record has survived of the commission for this piece. It seems to have remained in the artist's possession and was probably included in the sale of his effects that took place shortly after his death in 1722. It may have been bought at the sale by James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, for his house at Cannons, Middlesex. The panel shows the Stoning of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He was put to death after arousing the wrath of the legislative council in Jerusalem by his sermon arguing for the divinity of Christ (Acts of the Apostles 7: 2-56). Stephen was one of the first seven deacons appointed by the Apostles, and is here shown in simple robes, in contrast with the classical dress of those stoning him. He is looking up to Heaven at a vision of Christ.

Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) was born in Holland and probably studied under Artus Quellinus I (1609-1668) before he settled in England around 1667. Gibbon's workshop is most celebrated for the virtuoso wood carvings and reliefs produced for royal and aristocratic patrons, such as the work carried out at Hampton Court, Windsor Castle and Petworth House, Sussex. His workshop also produced statuary and church monuments in stone and marble and statues cast in bronze.

Physical description

Relief woodcarving in lime and lancewood. In the foreground there is a large group of figures, two on horseback, surrounding the dying saint, and behind are two buildings of classical design, in which are more spectators. On the left are trees, and in the background a landscape with heavy clouds.

Place of Origin

England (carved)

Date

ca. 1680 - ca. 1710 (carved)

Artist/maker

Gibbons, Grinling, born 1648 - died 1721 (wood-carver)

Materials and Techniques

Carved limewood and lancewood relief, with later paint

Dimensions

Height: 185 cm, Width: 121 cm

Object history note

This panel was probably purchased by the Duke of Chandos at the sale of effects which took place in 1722 after Gibbons's death. It was at the Duke's seat, Canons in Middlesex, until the sale following its demolition in 1747, when it was bought by a Mr Gore; passing by descent through his family until 1839, it was in turn aquired by a Mr Rebouw and taken to Wivenhoe Park near Colchester. It entered the museum in 1898.

Historical significance: One of the most renowned sculptors in England during the second half of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Grinling Gibbons is famous for his intricate and fluent woodcarving, of which this piece is an outstanding example. The subject is the stoning to death of the first Christian martyr, the scene shown in the centre foreground, but perhaps more dominant is the grand Italianate building rising up behind. Many of the diminutive figures are in classical poses and groupings, and although Gibbons never went to Rome himself, such elements show that he was familiar with both High Renaissance Painting and antique sculpture.

Descriptive line

Relief, carved limewood and lancewood (with some later paint), The stoning of Saint Stephen, by Grinling Gibbons, England, 1680-1710

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Beard, Geoffrey. The Work of Grinling Gibbons. London: John Murray, 1989. pp.16, 186, fig.5.
Whinney, Margaret. Sculpture in Britain 1530-1830. London: Penguin Books, 1988. pp. 116-117, fig.74, p.442, n.28. (Second edition, revised by John Physick)
Molesworth, Hender Delves. Sculpture in England. Vol. 2 : Renaissance to early XIX century. London : Published for the British Council by Longmans, 1951.p.14, plate XXI.
Brown, Frank Percival. London sculpture. London: Sir I. Pitman & Sons, ltd., 1934. (English art series; influences and developments in the progress of art in Britain. vol. III) p.53.
Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. pp.146-147.
[Collins Baker, C.H.and Muriel I. Baker. The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges, First Duke of Chandos. 1949. p.166, n.2.]
Jenkins, S. Portrait of a Patron. The Patronage and Collecting of James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, (1674-1744). Aldershot. 2007. pp. 67, 147 and fig. 35 on pp. 148.
Bilbey, Diane with Trusted, Marjorie. British Sculpture 1470 to 2000. A Concise Catalogue of the Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London. 2002. pp. 4-5. cat. no. 4.
Trusted, M. The Making of Sculpture. The materials and techniques of European Sculpture. London, 2007. pp. 133. pl. 249.

Labels and date

This virtuoso piece of wood carving is made up of layers of wood fitted together. The fanciful architecture and use of perspective are reminiscent of of slightly earlier continental (especially the French and Italian) painting. The work was recorded by the antiquary George Vertue as having been in Gibbons' house in Bow Street, Covent Garden, in his Gallery of Pictures; it was later bought by the first Duke of Chandos, probably from the sale of Gibbons' effects shortly after the sculptor's death in 1721. [October 1993]

Materials

Common lime; Lancewood; Paint

Techniques

Carving; Relief

Subjects depicted

Clouds; Figures; Landscape; Architecture; Buildings; Horseback; Martyrdom; Trees

Categories

Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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