Today is the birthday (1648) of Grinling Gibbons, a Dutch-British sculptor and wood carver known for his work in England, including St Paul’s Cathedral, Blenheim Palace and Hampton Court Palace. He was born and educated in Holland of English parents, his father being a merchant. He is widely regarded as the finest wood carver working in England, and the only one whose name is widely known among the general public. Most of his work is in lime (tilia) wood, especially decorative Baroque garlands made up of still-life elements at about life size, made to frame mirrors and decorate the walls of churches and palaces. He also produced furniture and small relief plaques with figurative scenes. He also worked in stone, mostly for churches. By the time he was established he led a large workshop, and the extent to which his personal hand appears in later work varies.
Very little is known about his early life. The name Grinling is formed from sections of two family names. He was born in Rotterdam, and it is sometimes thought that his father may have been the Englishman Samuel Gibbons, who worked under Inigo Jones, but even two of his closest acquaintances, the portrait painter Thomas Murray and the diarist John Evelyn, cannot agree on how he came to be introduced to King Charles II. He moved to Deptford in England around 1667, and by 1693 had accepted commissions from the royal family and had been appointed as a master carver. By 1680 he was already known as the “King’s Carver”, and carried out exquisite work for St Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle, and the Earl of Essex’s house at Cassiobury. His carving was so fine that it was said a pot of carved flowers above his house in London would tremble from the motion of passing coaches.
The diarist Evelyn first discovered Gibbons’ talent by chance in 1671. Evelyn, from whom Gibbons rented a cottage near Evelyn’s home in Sayes Court, Deptford (today part of south-east London), wrote the following: “I saw the young man at his carving, by the light of a candle. I saw him to be engaged on a carved representation of Tintoretto’s “Crucifixion”, which he had in a frame of his own making.” Later that same evening, Evelyn described what he had seen to Sir Christopher Wren. Wren and Evelyn then introduced him to King Charles II who gave him his first commission – still resting in the dining room of Windsor Castle.
Horace Walpole later wrote about Gibbons: “There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers, and chained together the various productions of the elements with the free disorder natural to each species.”
Gibbons was employed by Wren to work on St Paul’s Cathedral and later was appointed as master carver to George I. He was also commissioned by King William III to create carvings, some of which adorn Kensington Palace today. An example of his work can be seen in the Presence Chamber above the fireplace, which was originally intended to frame a portrait of Queen Mary II after her death in 1694. Also in the Orangery at Kensington, you can see some his pieces. Many fine examples of his work can still be seen in the churches around London – particularly the choir stalls and organ case of St Paul’s Cathedral. Some of the finest Gibbons carvings accessible to the general public are those on display at the National Trust’s Petworth House in West Sussex, UK. At Petworth the Carved Room is host to a fine and extensive display of intricate wooden carvings by Gibbons.
His association with Deptford is commemorated locally: Grinling Gibbons Primary School is in Clyde Street, near the site of Sayes Court. His work can be seen in the London churches of St Michael Paternoster Royal and St James, Piccadilly, where he carved the wood reredos and marble font. The Anglican dislike of painted altarpieces typically left a large space on the east wall that needed filling, which often gave Grinling’s garlands a very prominent position, as here.
St Michael and All Angels Church, Badminton, has a monument by Gibbons to Henry Somerset, 1st Duke of Beaufort (1629–1700). He was buried alongside his ancestors in the Beaufort Chapel in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, but the monument was moved to Badminton in 1878. The monument by Gibbons is now on the North side of the chancel at St Michael and All Angels Church, Badminton, and consists of an effigy of the Duke in Garter robes, reclining on a sarcophagus and a plinth with relief of St George and the Dragon. There are twin Corinthian columns with embossed shafts, acanthus frieze, cornice with flaming urns, and the Duke’s arms and supporters. At the top, 25 ft from the ground, is a tasseled cushion supporting a coronet; on the plinth are full-length female figures of Justice and Truth. Above the Duke’s effigy, parted curtains show the heavenly host with palms and crowns. The Latin inscription displays the names of his family and the many offices he held.
St. Peter and St. Paul church in Exton, Rutland has a fine marble tomb by Gibbons, dating from 1685, showing Viscount Campden with his fourth wife, Elizabeth Bertie, and carvings of his 19 children. Gibbons also made the monument for Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, a British naval hero killed in a disastrous shipwreck in 1707. Shovell’s large marble monument can be seen in the south choir aisle of Westminster Abbey.
Gibbons’ work very often includes carvings of peapods. A legend states that he would include a closed pod in his work, only carving it open once he had been paid. If the pea pod was left shut it supposedly showed that he had not been paid for the work.
Gibbons worked predominantly in tilia wood, commonly called lime or linden (not related to the lime fruit).Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. The genus occurs in Europe and eastern North America, but the greatest species diversity is found in Asia.
Linden trees produce soft and easily worked timber, which has very little grain and a density of 560 kg per cubic metre. During the Viking era it was often used for constructing shields. It is a popular wood for model building and for intricate carving. Especially in Germany, it was the classic wood for sculpture from the Middle Ages onwards and is the material for the elaborate altarpieces of Veit Stoss, Tilman Riemenschneider, and many others. The wood is used in marionette- and puppet-making and -carving. Having a fine light grain and being comparatively light in weight, it has been used for centuries for this purpose; despite the availability of modern alternatives it remains one of the main materials used as of 2015.
There are a few dishes that might be called Anglo-Dutch in that they are made similarly and are popular in both countries. Pea soup is one such. Actually pea soup has shown up in three of my posts already:
Although there is an endless variety of recipes for pea soup it comes down to a few basics — peas, onions, potatoes and meat. Then the decisions: fresh or dried peas, green or yellow splits, blended or chunky, smoked meat or not, hocks or sausages, or what? The most basic recipe calls for simmering green splits in stock with a ham hock or two, diced potatoes, and coarsely chopped onions. When the peas are fully mushy strip the meat from the ham hock and return it to the soup. I prefer to blend the vegetables and then return the meat.
“Pease” is the Middle English singular and plural form of the word “pea”—indeed, “pea” began as a back-formation. Pease pudding was a high-protein low-cost staple of the diet and, made from easily stored dried peas, was an ideal form of food for sailors, particularly boiled in accompaniment with salt pork which is the origin of English pea (and ham) soup. Although pease was replaced as a staple by potatoes during the nineteenth century, the food still remains popular in the national diet in the form of “mushy peas” commonly sold as the typical accompaniment to fish and chips, as well as with meat pies.
Here’s 3 old fashioned English recipes from Mrs Beeton
PEA SOUP (GREEN).
142. INGREDIENTS.—3 pints of green peas, 1/4 lb. of butter, 2 or three thin slices of ham, 6 onions sliced, 4 shredded lettuces, the crumb of 2 French rolls, 2 handfuls of spinach, 1 lump of sugar, 2 quarts of common stock.
Mode.—Put the butter, ham, 1 quart of the peas, onions, and lettuces, to a pint of stock, and simmer for an hour; then add the remainder of the stock, with the crumb of the French rolls, and boil for another hour. Now boil the spinach, and squeeze it very dry. Rub the soup through a sieve, and the spinach with it, to colour it. Have ready a pint of young peas boiled; add them to the soup, put in the sugar, give one boil, and serve. If necessary, add salt.
Time.—2-1/2 hours. Average cost, 1s. 9d. per quart.
Seasonable from June to the end of August.
Sufficient for 10 persons.
Note.—It will be well to add, if the peas are not quite young, a little sugar. Where economy is essential, water may be used instead of stock for this soup, boiling in it likewise the pea-shells; but use a double quantity of vegetables.
WINTER PEA SOUP (YELLOW).
143. INGREDIENTS.—1 quart of split peas, 2 lbs. of shin of beef, trimmings of meat or poultry, a slice of bacon, 2 large carrots, 2 turnips, 5 large onions, 1 head of celery, seasoning to taste, 2 quarts of soft water, any bones left from roast meat, 2 quarts of common stock, or liquor in which a joint of meat has been boiled.
Mode.—Put the peas to soak over-night in soft water, and float off such as rise to the top. Boil them in the water till tender enough to pulp; then add the ingredients mentioned above, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring it occasionally. Pass the whole through a sieve, skim well, season, and serve with toasted bread cut in dice.
Time.—4 hours. Average cost, 6d. per quart. Seasonable all the year round, but more suitable for cold weather. Sufficient for 12 persons.
THE PEA.—It is supposed that the common gray pea, found wild in Greece, and other parts of the Levant, is the original of the common garden pea, and of all the domestic varieties belonging to it. The gray, or field pea, called bisallie by the French, is less subject to run into varieties than the garden kinds, and is considered by some, perhaps on that account, to be the wild plant, retaining still a large proportion of its original habit. From the tendency of all other varieties “to run away” and become different to what they originally were, it is very difficult to determine the races to which they belong. The pea was well known to the Romans, and, probably, was introduced to Britain at an early period; for we find peas mentioned by Lydgate, a poet of the 15th century, as being hawked in London. They seem, however, for a considerable time, to have fallen out of use; for, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Fuller tells us they were brought from Holland, and were accounted “fit dainties for ladies, they came so far and cost so dear.” There are some varieties of peas which have no lining in their pods, which are eaten cooked in the same way as kidney-beans. They are called sugar peas, and the best variety is the large crooked sugar, which is also very good, used in the common way, as a culinary vegetable. There is also a white sort, which readily splits when subjected to the action of millstones set wide apart, so as not to grind them. These are used largely for soups, and especially for sea-stores. From the quantity of farinaceous and saccharine matter contained in the pea, it is highly nutritious as an article of food.
PEA SOUP (inexpensive).
144. INGREDIENTS.—1/4 lb. of onions, 1/4 lb. of carrots, 2 oz. of celery, 3/4 lb. of split peas, a little mint, shred fine; 1 tablespoonful of coarse brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste, 4 quarts of water, or liquor in which a joint of meat has been boiled.
Mode.—Fry the vegetables for 10 minutes in a little butter or dripping, previously cutting them up in small pieces; pour the water on them, and when boiling add the peas. Let them simmer for nearly 3 hours, or until the peas are thoroughly done. Add the sugar, seasoning, and mint; boil for 1/4 of an hour, and serve.
Time.—3-1/2 hours. Average cost, 1-1/2d. per quart.
Seasonable in winter.
Sufficient for 12 persons.
Here are some more English recipes (some a bit nouvelle) using standards of English cookery, such as leeks and mint along with the peas
My favorite is peas with baby leeks. I’ve modified the recipe slightly to suit my tastes. I’ve made the truffle oil and sugar optional. I’m not a big fan of truffle oil, and I never add sugar to a savory dish. If you use vegetable stock this soup is vegetarian.
Pea and Baby Leek Soup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 baby leeks sliced thin
2 celery stalks chopped coarsely
1 russet potato peeled and diced
6 cups light stock
1 bunch thyme
1¼ pounds fresh English peas
½ cup cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon truffle oil (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat.
Add the onion, leeks and celery and sauté until soft.
Add the potatoes, thyme and stock and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are softened, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let steep for a few minutes.
While contents are steeping, fill another pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the peas and cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes.
Drain and cold-shock the peas, in an ice-water bath to preserve their bright green color.
Add the peas to the pot with the vegetables and stock.
Blend the contents, preferably with an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender.
Add cream, salt and, pepper to taste – and the truffle oil, and sugar if desired.
This soup is equally good warm or chilled.
Here is a Dutch 16th century pea soup recipe that Gibbons might well have eaten, taken from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift. Note that it is laden with spices.
Dutch Baroque Pea Soup
1 large leek
3 to 4 tablespoons butter
1 large carrot, peeled and fine chopped
3 medium onions, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch dice
Meat cut from 2 large smoked ham hocks (2 to 2½ pounds)
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
3 medium red skin potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
1½ cups dried split peas (yellow ones are preferred in Holland)
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¾ teaspoon dried thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 14-ounce cans vegetable or chicken broth
3 to 4 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon allspice
1. Prepare the leek by cutting away the green top and the root. You’ll use only the white portion. Slice the white stalk down its length and rinse it under cold running water to wash away any sand. Pat the leek dry with paper towels and slice it thin.
2. In a 6-quart pot, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the leeks, carrots, onions, and meat, and salt and pepper. Sauté until the onions begin to brown. Then stir in the potatoes, split peas, cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice, the ginger, thyme, garlic, broth, and water. There should be enough liquid to cover the peas and vegetables by an inch. Add more water if necessary.
3. Simmer the soup, partially covered, 30 minutes, or until the split peas are almost dissolved and the potatoes are tender. Taste the soup for seasoning, and just before serving it, swirl in the 2 tablespoons of butter. Finish the soup by stirring in the last ¼ teaspoon of allspice.
Snert, also called Erwtensoep, is the modern Dutch version of pea soup. It is a thick stew of green split peas, different cuts of pork, celeriac or stalk celery, onions, leeks, carrots, and often potato. Slices of rookworst (smoked sausage) are added before serving. The soup, which is traditionally eaten during the winter, is emblematic of Dutch cuisine.
It is customarily served with rye bread (roggebrood) and bacon, cheese or butter. The bacon is usually katenspek, a variety of bacon which has been cooked and then smoked. Pancakes are sometimes served with pea soup; this dish is called snert met struif, struif referring to the pancakes.
So called ‘koek en zopie’ outlets, small food and drinks stalls which spring up only during winters along frozen canals, ponds and lakes in the Netherlands and cater to ice skaters, usually serve “snert” as a hearty snack.
1 (14 ounce) bag dried split peas
1 ham hock
3 slices bacon, chopped
2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
3 1/2 cups water, plus more as needed
4 small potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 leek, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery with leaves, stalks diced and leaves chopped
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 (1 pound) package smoked sausage, sliced
Place dried split peas, ham hock, and bacon into a heavy soup pan, pour in the chicken broth and 3 1/2 cups water.
Cover and simmer until the peas are tender and broken apart, about 2 hours. Stir in more water as needed to prevent the soup from burning on the bottom. Stir occasionally throughout cooking.
Stir the potatoes, carrots, leek, onion, celery, and garlic into soup; mix in more water, if needed. Cover and simmer the soup for 1 more hour.
Season with salt, black pepper, thyme, nutmeg, and cloves; mix sausage slices into soup. Cover and cook 30 minutes more to blend the flavors.