Furniture making has been in existence for a very longtime with records dating back to 3000 BC where discovery of preserved furniture was made in Orkney, Scotland. The furniture definitions at this time were so broad enabling human beings to continuously improve on those basics. The design concepts and forms of new furniture has thenceforth gradually been improving to satisfy the wants of man both within the decorative arts such as ornamentation and home furniture, security doors and the rest. Today, an artist can just think of something attractive after which he goes ahead to make wood carvings that will represent the ideas he has.
History together with inference gives us an idea of what the wood carving works of the Assyrians, Romans and Greece was. The Assyrians were considered to be pacesetters of the Greece carving and refinement works during the old civilization era. Pausanias and some other classical writers did a good job of describing to us some of the important wood carving pieces of the Roman sculpture. Most of the images of the roman gods had to be preserved to the late years of the historic times. Some of these wooden figures to have been preserved till such times include the Palladium- the sacred Pallas figure that was guarded by the roman Vestal Virgins.
Archaeologists have been able to find classical era wood carvings that date back to the 8th century BC. These have been found in Gordion Turkey and they comprise of tables, inlaid serving stands and relics used in worship by Muslims.
The first eleven centuries during the AD era has got extremely rare examples of wood carvings. Some of the few sculptures that can be associated with this Christian era include the carven panels found at the main doors of the St Sabina of Rome. These doors comprise of several small square panels with each of them being carved from a New Testament scene. Some fine fragments of Byzantine art- eleventh or twelfth century- can be found at Mount Athos, Macedonia in a monastery.
Gothic period- the 12th-15th centuries
The wood designer of this period cannot be competed with any other designer of any time. This is the period when wood carving received the greatest transition and revolution. A lot of credible architectural works were seen during this era in all the sectors. The roodscreens, roofs, choir stalls and retable’s of France, England together with Teutonic countries within Europe received a transformation that had never been seen before and has never been seen thereafter. Details were seen in carving works in minuteness, in detail, in mechanical accuracy and great architectural conception for the enhancement of decorative treatment
During this time, the keynote of any scheme work was color. The gorgeous vestments of the priests, the crucifix, the incense, and the lights all overshadowed the walls to crown the glorious gothic art work.
During the early AD era, wood was the raw material that was dominant. It was therefore highly used to heavily decorate carved designs since ornaments were mainly made from it. During these times, Palladianism style was majorly characterized with Great Britain, Neoclassic and Rococo associates with Western Europe while opulent and at times Baroque designs were characterized with the southern and the northern Europe.
Grinling Gibbons, a great school arose in England. Gibbons name is highly associated with decoration that was directly copied from nature. His carvings and moldings were very beautiful and of conventional form i.e. Chatsworth, Hampton Court Palace etc. during this era, ornaments such as earrings and others were crafted in the design of birds, fruits and others. The masterpiece during this time naturally became a rule that carvings were done using pine wood after which they were painted white.
19th century up to present day
The demand for carved decorations has greatly reduced during this time. There is also little that has been done to come up with new improvements in the wood carvings of ornaments. People are not so much in to these forms of ornaments and carvings. For those who love them, they use what was designed during the previous eras. The only new wood fashion of this era is the collection of old oak. Sculptures in church today get the work of repairing old wood carvings and productions of imitations and nothing new.
Religion receives lots of credit for the development of ornamental wood carvings. When we look at all areas where wood carvings were gaining momentum in development, a religion is associated with the people of that land. In Greece, most of the ornaments were in honor of Mithras while all the ornaments discovered in Istanbul turkey were either directly used in the Islam worship of Allah or indirectly giving honor to those in the Islam hierarchy. During the roman era, wood carving ornaments sprung up for the decoration of the saints’ images as well as relics for worship. Hinduism is also not left behind as well as Buddhism and other religions.
Several dynasties also came up with different wooden ornaments to honor those on authority. The furniture found in the palace of the pharaoh of Egypt was not as plain and simple as that found in the houses of commoners. The furniture in such palaces had to be ornamented with the finest wood carvings. As time went by, the rich started embracing these ornaments, something that moved down the hierarchy to the commoners. This is the same thing that happened with the Babylonian empire, the Greece Empire, the Roman Empire.
Although wood carvings seem to have come to a standstill and no more development is being seen today, wood carvings still remain to be very important aspects for the decoration of our furniture, places of worship etc. A lot has already been done and what may be seen today as a new design might just be a revival of a design that was done long ago.