Animals in English Wood Carving

Animals in English Wood Carving

Druce, G. C.

The Third Annual Volume of the Walpole Society, 1913-1914 (Oxford, 1914), Version 2 (August 2004)


The treatment of animals and birds in ecclesiastical carvings hardly seems to have received sufficient attention in the past. In common with other unobtrusive details they are liable to be passed over in favour of more imposing architectural features, but they are deserving of study, as we are able to gather from them evidence of the practice of the English carver in the department of natural history and the influences affecting his work.

Despite continual losses the amount of figure sculpture in stone and wood in our churches is large, and the subjects display the greatest variety. There are scenes from the Bible, from romances and legends, animals, birds and reptiles from the Bestiaries, events of everyday life, and grotesque creatures in profusion; and incidentally there are innumerable details of mediaeval manners and costume which present a large field for study. The sources of this miscellaneous collection are to be found mainly in illuminated manuscripts—in the Psalters, Apocalypses, Bestiaries, and other manuscripts to which the carvers had access, and which they freely copied or at least got ideas from. In the case of animals, with which we are now concerned, the Bestiaries provided many models. They form the pictorial link between the old system of symbolic teaching of the early Biblical commentators, founded upon the appearance and habits of animals and birds, and the carvings of animals in churches.

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