The History of Wood Carving in Art

Want to know about the interesting history of wood carving in art? if you do, then keep reading!

Being the most versatile and easy to carve material, wood has always been the first interest of artists and carvers since several centuries. Wood not only helped artists to transform their thoughts into reality but was also valued greatly for its aesthetic appearance and unaltered form.

However, apart from its quality and aesthetic appearance, wood was also influenced by different cultures and social reforms. Earlier in Western art, wood was used on a great scale due to its easy availability, while it has slightly lower cultural value back then, it was highly praised for its artsy.

But what is the exact history behind wood carving in art? Who were the artists that made some of the most remembered sculptures with this amazing material? Let’s find out!


Although the roots of wood carving are deep into the prehistoric times, we will begin our discussion with the middle ages. It was Christianity that discovered the versatility and usefulness of wood. At that time, it was mainly used for religious purposes, for carving crosses, figures of saints and other gods. However, because of its vulnerability to fungus, water, insects and mold, a majority of ancient figures and sculptures have perished over many centuries.

Also, the middle ages were encircled around a limited number of stories which were mostly about religions and beliefs that artists could convey through their pieces of art. The most popular masterpieces of that time are Tilman Riemenschneider’s Holy Blood Altar, Gero Crucifix and Rottgen Pieta. Moreover, Germany was believed to be the most proliferous region in wood carving. Not just the statutes and figures, wood carving was also used for altarpieces, ceilings and other monuments. You can also get a good idea of what wood carving used to look like several centuries ago by having a look at the tools used by the ancient artists such as chip whittling tools and carving knives.


If you want to look at the most popular and impressive ancient artwork then check out Gregor Erhart’s Saint Mary Magdalene in Louvre.

It’s a beautiful creature that combines the old with new very classically.


The general understanding and tone of human role in a general aspect shifted to the very centre with the advent of the Renaissance. Renaissance Humanism coined the idea of Uomo Universale which means a Universal Man that’s the centre of the universe. This idea was quickly adopted by the artists and they started reflecting it through their masterpieces. The good thing is, wood carving continued to rise and develop and some of the impressive examples of wood carving art during this time are Penitent Magdalene in Florence and St John the Baptist, Venice.


Marble was the most favorite material of artists at the advent of classicism. Wood was carved for door panels, mantelpieces, Tượng gỗ đẹp,doorways and many more such things. In fact, the production of wooden cherubs increased significantly during the 18th century. Further, with the coming of the 19th century, wood carving became a part of the curriculum of several art schools in Europe.


Modern artists came back to wood after the democratization of art materials along with the genres. Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, Xawery Dunikowski, Ernst Barlach, Barbara Hepworth, Paul Gauguin and Louise Nevelson are some of the artists known for their exceptional woodworking skills. Henry Moore is famous for his soft wooden sculptures for example the Reclining Figure of 1936 whereas Gauguin is known for his wooden masks and reliefs. Talking about contemporary art, it is nearly impossible to recap the woodwork during this period. The techniques, styles, versatility and the combination of wood with a range of art materials are uncountable. Still if you want to have a general idea about what contemporary woodworking looks like, have a look at the masterpieces by outstanding sculptors like Steph Cop and Tony Cragg.

So, this was all about the history of wood carving in art. We hope you got an idea about the roots of woodcarving and how it is different from today.

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