A Charles II carved limewood mirror in the manner of Grinling Gibbons.
A Charles II carved limewood mirror in the manner of Grinling Gibbons.
A Charles II carved limewood mirror in the manner of Grinling Gibbons.
A Charles II carved limewood mirror in the manner of Grinling Gibbons.
A Charles II carved limewood mirror in the manner of Grinling Gibbons.
A Charles II carved limewood mirror in the manner of Grinling Gibbons.

A Charles II carved limewood mirror in the manner of Grinling Gibbons.

c. 1690 England

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A carved limewood mirror in the manner of Grinling Gibbons, English circa 1680;
with an associated 18th century mercury-silvered bevelled glass.


Grinling Gibbons (1648 - 1721) was born in Rotterdam of English parents and came to London aged 19. Initially working on figureheads etc., for ships, he was supposedly ‘discovered’ by the diarist John Evelyn in 1671. Evelyn arranged for Gibbons and one of his works to be presented at Court, but initially without much success. However, Gibbons went on to become the foremost wood carver of his day executing commissions at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to name but a few.
Of course Gibbons did not carve every piece of extant late 17th century work of this type; there were other carvers arguably as good such as Edmund Carpenter (Belton) Edward Pierce (Sudbury), John Seldon (Petworth) and Samuel Watson (Chatsworth), not to mention the many carvers that Gibbons himself employed over the years. However, there is no doubt that his was the major influence and his name has become synonymous with this type of exquisite carving.
Most carving of this type is in the form of drops, overmantels, festoons, overdoors, rather than in a frame as is the case here. An exception is a frame originally belonging to Horace Walpole (who said of Gibbons that he ‘gave to wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers’). The attribution to Gibbons is not certain but it is interesting to note the similarities with our frame, especially the two cupid figures in the finial.

Cupids, or ‘boys’ as they were usually termed at the time, are a feature of our frame and occur repeatedly in Gibbons work. In our frame we not only have the boys in the finial holding up the ribbon, but also more stylised cupids in the lower corners. This type of stylised cupid is seen extensively in Gibbons’ work at St. Paul’s cathedral for example (where the probably apocryphal tradition grew up that the boys’ faces were modelled on Gibbons’ own children), and both types of cupid can also be seen at Petworth House.

Restoration:
When presented to our workshop for restoration the frame was almost black from a combination of dirt and dark Victorian staining. (To our taste it is difficult to understand the Victorian predilection for dark staining, but they applied it with gusto to many things, including wood-carvings - e.g. the Mercers’ Company carvings in the City of London. There was also old worm damage in the lower corners. Underneath the Victorian staining were some very feint remains of a possible gilding, then a gesso layer, then the limewood.
It was determined to remove the staining, strengthen any worm damage, and carve and replace any missing fragments. Chemical methods were deemed too harsh for stain removal so the painstaking process of “dry-stripping” was employed. This involves scratching off the undesired layer(s) with small tools and is very labour intensive but ensures original layers are preserved. A weak solution of scotch glue was poured into the areas of worm damage to permanently strengthen. Finally, some wing tips, missing flowers, etc were carved, applied to the frame and matched in to tone.

Frames from this period are extremely rare and very rarely appear on the market. When they do, the quality of the carving is usually pedestrian compared to the depth and life exhibited by the carver’s art we see here. This is the best Gibbons frame we have had for twenty five years.

Further reading:
Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving by David Esterly. V & A publications 1998.
The Work of Grinling Gibbons by Geoffrey Beard. John Murray (Publishers) Ltd 1989.
Dimensions
Height 129.00 cm (50.79 inches)
Width 104.00 cm (40.94 inches)
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