Sculpture techniques: virtuoso carving
Throughout the ages artists and craftsmen have made virtuoso carvings as a display of their skill and ingenuity. Although ivory, wood and stone are relatively easy to carve, other materials such as gemstones are much more demanding. Most of the carvings shown here were made for wealthy patrons and collectors, who delighted in the rarity of the material and quality of the carving.
Cameo Portrait of a Lady in a Veil Probably Italy, about 1550-1600. Sardonyx (layered agate), in later gold setting. Museum no. A.45-1978. Probably formerly in the collection of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel. The engraver has cut this bust entirely from the dark upper layer of the stone, using the contrast with the white lower layer to full effect. Matt and polished areas suggest the different textures of flesh, hair, fabric and jewellery.
Time and Opportunity David Le Marchand (1674-1726) England (London), about 1700. Ivory. Museum no. A.1-1935. This figure group is based on a life-size garden sculpture at Versailles by Thomas Regnaudin. It probably represents Missed Opportunity. The winged figure of Time seizes Opportunity, but she seizes her own forelock and kills herself with a long spear. Penitence crouches beneath with a lion.
George I David Le Marchand (1674-1726) England, about 1700-10. Elephant ivory. Museum no. A.12-1931. Le Marchand was a Frenchman who established himself in Britain and became a renowned portraitist in ivory. Here he has used an exceptionally large piece of ivory (height 25cm x width 14cm x depth 12cm) and carved the face and wig of the monarch in a highly naturalistic style.
Cameo Portrait of Elizabeth I Italy, France or England, about 1575-80. Sardonyx (layered agate), in a later gold setting. Museum no. 1603-1855. About 30 cameos of Elizabeth survive, many apparently from the same workshop. They were probably made as gifts from the queen to her supporters at home and abroad. The image was not a true likeness but a statement of the queen's virtues and powers. Here she holds a sieve, which may symbolise either chastity or the power of discernment.
Bust of a Young Female Saint, about 1380–1400. Museum no. 399-1872. Boxwood, with gilt copper crown set with garnets and amethysts. Small boxwood figures like this were popular from the 1350s onwards. This example, carved with exceptional delicacy, is probably from a princely collection. It contains a small cavity for a relic and probably represents a martyred virgin saint.