In architecture, tracery is the stonework elements that support the glass in a Gothic window.[1] The term probably derives from the 'tracing floors' on which the complex patterns of late Gothic windows were laid out.[2] There are two main types, plate tracery and the later bar tracery.[3] The evolving style from Romanesque to Gothic architecture and changing features, like the thinning of lateral walls and enlarging of windows lead to the innovation of tracery. The earliest form of tracery, called plate tracery, began as openings that were pierced from a stone slab. Bar tracery was then implemented, having derived from the plate tracery. However instead of a slab, the windows were defined by molded stone mullions which were lighter and allowed for more openings and intricate designs.[4] Other notable styles of tracery to follow include geometrical tracery and curvilinear (flowing) tracery.[5]

Strassburg Rose exterior
The rose window of Strasbourg Cathedral, showing the open tracery screen.

Plate tracery

Plate tracery in the nave aisle windows of Soissons Cathedral (c.1200).

The earliest form of window tracery, typical of Gothic architecture prior to the early 13th century, is known as plate tracery because the individual lights (the glazed openings in the window) have the appearance of being cut out of a flat plate of masonry. Romanesque church windows were normally quite small, somewhat taller than wide and with a simple round-headed ('segmental') arch at the top. From around the 1140s, the pointed-arch Gothic window (employed by Abbot Suger for the redesign of the choir at St Denis) started to take over.

As the buttressing systems of early Gothic architecture reduced the structural need for broad expanses of thick walls, window openings grew progressively larger and instead of having just one very large window per bay division (which would create problems with supporting the glass), the typical early-Gothic 'twin lancet plus oculus' form of plate tracery developed. This consists of two (sometimes three) tall thin lights topped with pointed arches, with a round or trefoil opening placed above them, often contained within a blind arch which gives the whole assemblage a pointed lancet shape (see the example from Soissons Cathedral, right). With this type of design, the spandrels (i.e. the spaces between the tops of the lancet windows and the oculus) are just blank wall. The practicalities of building window tracery in this way severely limited the complexity of designs that could be produced and although plate tracery designs evolved over the course of the 12th and early 13th centuries, in practice, the only real variation was in the number and size of lancets and in the trefoils, quatrefoils and oculi used to fill the spaces above them.

The rose windows of early- and high-Gothic cathedrals, such as the example in the north transept of Laon Cathedral (1170's) or the west facade at Chartres (c. 1210), also employed plate tracery. This greatly limited the overall amount of light admitted to the interior by these windows, as well as restricting the complexity of patterns that could be created.

Bar tracery

Bar tracery in the clerestory windows at Reims Cathedral (1230s). Note the cross section through a mullion shown within the left lancet.

The earliest bar tracery designs were made for the aisle windows at Reims around 1215. The Reims windows still used the same 'two lancets plus oculus' pattern (as in the Soissons example above) but now the glass panels were held between narrow stone mullions made up of carefully shaped lengths of masonry (fitted together with mortar and metal pins) quite distinct from the wall surrounding them. These mullions were much more slender than the corresponding elements in plate tracery windows and crucially, the previously solid wall areas such as the spandrels could also now be glazed, greatly increasing the amount of light admitted.

The cross-section of each mullion or tracery bar was important both for the structural integrity of the window and for the visual effect. As can be seen in Viollet-le-Duc's diagram (right) there was normally a roll-moulding on both the inside and outside of the windows, which made the mullions appear even more slender than they actually were. The shoulder marked 'B' on the diagram is the glazing slot, into which the metal frame (armature) of the window glass is mounted. Unlike with plate tracery, where each stone had to be individually shaped, the elements of bar tracery could be mass-produced to standard templates in the mason's yard – work that could continue even when it was too cold for lime mortar to set. The technical aspects of the windows at Reims clearly fascinated Villard de Honnecourt, who visited the construction site, probably in the 1220s, and made a detailed sketch of the various templates, using a key to show how they fitted into the different parts of the window (the templates are in the lower half of folio 32 recto; the symbols besides the templates match similar ones on the detailed drawing of the Reims elevations on the facing page, folio 31 verso).

Geometrical tracery

Geometrical tracery is identified by the circular openings at the head of the arch of the window. A common composition is three lights beneath two circles and a third at the point of the arch,[6] such an example can be seen along the aisle at the Lincoln Cathedral in England. Also at the Lincoln Cathedral, the east window is an expanded version of this idea with two interior arches, a total of eight lower lights, four small circular lights topped with two larger circles to fill out the interior arches, and finally above all one large circular shape filled with seven smaller circular lights. Geometrical tracery, in its early stages, had a rule of equilateral law, where the tracery design follows the shape of the arch in an equilateral manor. Additional decorative elements can be implemented, such as foliation or the "spherical triangle". The use of spherical triangles is a later adaption and likely reflects religious significance.[7]

Curvilinear (flowing) tracery

Starting in the late thirteenth century and at the beginning of the fourteenth century tracery took on more fluid characteristics and thusly was called flowing or curvilinear tracery. A common shape that was used in curvilinear tracery was that of the ogee, which was too weak for structural application and was instead used as a decorative element. The use of the ogee in curvilinear tracery can be seen in the west window of St. Mary's parish church in Cottingham, East Riding of Yorkshire.[8] A secondary style considered related to curvilinear tracery is called reticulated tracery. Reticulated tracery fills the head of the arch with repeated forms creating the appearance of a net-like pattern.[9]

Blind and open tracery

As bar tracery opened the way for more complex patterns, masons started applying those same patterns to other surfaces as well as the actual window openings. When used on an otherwise solid walls, such motifs are known as blind tracery, a decorative effect first applied on the west facade of the church of St Nicaise at Reims (1230's). Conversely, tracery was also constructed as openwork screens, which could either match the window tracery behind them (e.g. the Basilica of Saint Urbain, Troyes) or create a visual counterpoint to it, as on the exterior of the west facade of Strasbourg Cathedral. Open tracery in particular was a key feature of the later phases of Rayonnant Gothic.

Tracery patterns and the phases of Gothic

Most 19th-century histories of Gothic architectural style used a series of typological categories based on the evolution of the dominant patterns of window tracery. In terms of the overall development of Gothic architecture, the crucial development was not so much the use of any particular tracery patterns but the transition from plate- to bar-tracery, which was what made the Rayonnant and subsequent styles possible.

Tracing floors and épures

As the complexity of tracery increased, so did the need for masons to draw out their designs in advance, either as a way of experimenting with patterns or as a way of communicating their designs to other craftsmen or to their patrons. Because of the cost and size limitations of parchment sheets, such designs would normally be drawn by incising onto a whitewashed board or a conveniently placed section of flat wall. In the latter case, the wall would be prepared with a thin layer of plaster, which would show the design more clearly.

20130406 Ely Cathedral 01
Tracery in a window of Ely Cathedral.

A number of churches and cathedrals still show the faint remains of these tracings (or épures as they are known in France), from where the mason's compass points scratched through the plaster and into the masonry below. (Examples include some experimental 14th century window tracery patterns at the eastern end of the south wall inside the Galillee porch of Ely Cathedral, or the extensive series of tracings on the flat aisle roofs of Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral.) A number of major building sites (including Westminster Abbey, Wells Cathedral and York Minster) originally had dedicated tracery chambers, where the architects could prepare their designs in relative comfort. The availability of a large flat floor surface meant that designs could be drawn life-size and the individual elements of bar tracery laid out on the plan to test their goodness of fit, before hoisting them up the scaffolding for installation in the actual window openings. This also meant that masons could carry on working through the winter season, when building work would normally grind to a halt.

The tracing floors themselves were covered with plaster of paris, which could be relaid and smoothed down after each set of designs were finished with. The 14th-century tracing house at York (also known as the Mason's Loft) survives to this day on the upper storey of the corridor leading to the Chapter House, the complex web of lines and curves scratched into the floor serving as witnesses to the countless different designs that were worked out in there. The high-quality carpentry and the inclusion of a garderobe and fireplace in the York tracing house also give an indication of the rising status of the architect around the 14th century.

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tracery" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary – etymological details for 'Tracery'
  3. ^ Honour, H. and J. Fleming, (2009) A World History of Art. 7th edn. London: Laurence King Publishing, p. 948. ISBN 9781856695848
  4. ^ Hamlin, Alfred (1906). A text-book of the history of architecture (7 ed ed.). New York, Longmans. pp. 188.
  5. ^ Bradley, Simon (2016). Churches: An Architectural Guide. New Haven : Yale University Press.
  6. ^ Bradley, Simon (2016). Churches: An Architectural Guide. New Haven : Yale University Press.
  7. ^ Freeman, Edward Augustus (1851). Books on Google Play An Essay on the Origin and Development of Window Tracery in England; with Nearly Four Hundred Illustrations. Oxford & London, John Henry Parker. pp. 13, 14, 24, 28, 29.
  8. ^ Bradley, Simon (2016). Churches: An Architectural Guide. New Haven : Yale University Press.
  9. ^ Ching, Francis D.K. (2012). A visual dictionary of architecture (English : 2nd ed.). Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley. p. 275.
  • Bony, Jean (1983). French Gothic Architecture of the 12th and 13th Centuries. University of California Press.
  • Wilson, Christopher (1990). The Gothic Cathedral. London. Eespecially 120ff.
  • Frankl, Paul; Crossley, Paul (2000). Gothic Architecture. Yale University Press.

For the aerodynamic device, see Bargeboard (aerodynamics).

Bargeboard (probably from Medieval Latin bargus, or barcus, a scaffold, and not from the now obsolete synonym "vergeboard") is a board fastened to the projecting gables of a roof to give them strength, protection, and to conceal the otherwise exposed end of the horizontal timbers or purlins of the roof to which they were attached. Bargeboards are sometimes moulded only or carved, but as a rule the lower edges were cusped and had tracery in the spandrels besides being otherwise elaborated. An example in Britain was one at Ockwells in Berkshire (built 1446–1465), which was moulded and carved as if it were intended for internal work.

In New Orleans, bargeboard is the wood from which many of the creole cottages were constructed in the early to mid-1800s. Barges were constructed up-river to carry goods to New Orleans, and upon arrival dismantled and used for construction of houses. The planks are generally 2 inches (5.1 cm) thick and of varying lengths and widths, although 10 inches (25 cm) width is common. It is hard, solid wood that has lasted between 150 and 200 years in a wet, humid climate.


Bradstone is a village in Devon, England, on the River Tamar. It has a small church and a Tudor hall (now a farm) with an attractive gatehouse.

Bradstone Manor Farm is a Grade II listed manor house with a Grade I listed 16th century gatehouse.

The Church of St Nonna was built in the 12th century. It has been designated as a Grade I listed building and is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The church has an arcaded north aisle. The west tower was added in the 15th century. The tracery in the south wall of the chancel is believed to date from 1261 when the church was dedicated by Bishop Walter Branscombe. Outside the tower is a stone dedicated to John Coumbe, said to have lived from 1484 to 1604 — outliving the entire Tudor dynasty.

Burrington, Devon

Burrington is a village and civil parish in North Devon in England. In 2001 the population was 538.The village has a church, a Methodist chapel, a pub and shop-cum-Post Office. Unusually for a Devon village it has excellent bus services between Barnstaple and Exeter. The church, Holy Trinity, is Grade I listed and the pub, the Barnstaple Inn, is grade 2 listed. The pub is one of only two buildings within the village that are still thatched.

The parish church of Holy Trinity dates from the 16th century, but it is of old foundation and its incumbents are recorded from 1277. It has a notable granite arcade, wagon roof with carved bosses, an early 16th-century rood screen and a Norman font. The tower is in the position of a north transept. The south door is original and has blank Perpendicular tracery; the communion rails are c. 1700. Northcote Manor, dating from at least the 1700s is located within the parish.The parish records include the baptisms of the three children of William and Ann Blackmore (of Town) during the 1820s. William is described as the schoolteacher. One of the vicars of Burrington was Samuel Davis, the second of whose wives was Jane Elizabeth Blackmore, half-sister of Richard Doddridge Blackmore, the author of Lorna Doone.

Church of St Mary, Letchworth

The Church of St Mary the Virgin is the former Church of England parish church for Old Letchworth in Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire. The current church was built in the late 12th century and is Grade II listed. It comes under the Diocese of St Albans.

The oldest building in the area and only 60 feet long inside, until 1903 St Mary's was the parish church for the old village of Letchworth. Mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, parts of the building date to the 11th century and is built on the remains of an older Saxon structure. However, most of what is seen today dates to the late 12th century and was reroofed in the 15th century when the south porch was also added. The nave has three bays and a chancel. The church has a pyramidical timber-framed bell-cot with a tiled roof at the west end inside which is a bell dating to the 14th century. The exterior is of flint and ironstone random rubble, partly rendered, with freestone dressings and ashlar, brick and tile buttresses. The windows in the nave have a Y tracery. The gabled porch has a square headed doorway with shields in spandrels. Inside there is a carved effigy of the Crusader Sir Richard de Montfichet on a window sill. His heart is reputedly buried under the church.

Clark Street Congregational Church, Morecambe

Clark Street Congregational Church, in Morecambe, Lancashire, England, was built in 1863 and designed by the Lancaster architect E. G. Paley. It provided seating for 350 people. The chapel has a northwest tower, a southwest porch, and windows containing plate tracery. The church closed before 1980, and has been converted into offices.

English Gothic architecture

English Gothic is an architectural style originating in France, before then flourishing in England from about 1180 until about 1520.

As with the Gothic architecture of other parts of Europe, English Gothic is defined by its pointed arches, vaulted roofs, buttresses, large windows, and spires. The Gothic style was introduced from France, where the various elements had first been used together within a single building at the choir of the Basilique Saint-Denis north of Paris, built by the Abbot Suger and dedicated on 11 June 1144. The earliest large-scale applications of Gothic architecture in England are at Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Many features of Gothic architecture had evolved naturally from Romanesque architecture (often known in England as Norman architecture). This evolution can be seen most particularly at the Norman Durham Cathedral, which has the earliest pointed ribbed high vault known.

English Gothic was to develop along lines that sometimes paralleled and sometimes diverged from those of continental Europe. Historians traditionally divide English Gothic into a number of different periods, which may be further subdivided to accurately define different styles. Gothic architecture continued to flourish in England for a hundred years after the precepts of Renaissance architecture were formalised in Florence in the early 15th century. The Gothic style gave way to the Renaissance in the later 16th and 17th centuries, but was revived in the late 18th century as an academic style and had great popularity as Gothic Revival architecture throughout the 19th century.

Many of the largest and finest works of English architecture, notably the medieval cathedrals of England, are largely built in the Gothic style. So also are castles, palaces, great houses, universities, and many smaller unpretentious secular buildings, including almshouses and trade halls. Another important group of Gothic buildings in England are the parish churches, which, like the medieval cathedrals, are often of earlier, Norman foundation.


A fanlight is a window, often semicircular or semi-elliptical in shape, with glazing bars or tracery sets radiating out like an open fan. It is placed over another window or a doorway, and is sometimes hinged to a transom. The bars in the fixed glazed window spread out in the manner of a sunburst. It is also called a "sunburst light".


Flamboyant (from French flamboyant, "flaming") is the name given to a florid style of late Gothic architecture in vogue in France from about 1350, until it was superseded by Renaissance architecture during the early 16th century. The term has been mainly used to describe French buildings and sometimes the early period of English Gothic architecture, usually called the Decorated Style; the historian Edward Augustus Freeman proposed this in a work of 1851. A version of the style spread to Spain and Portugal during the 15th century. It evolved from the Rayonnant style and the English Decorated Style and was marked by even greater attention to decoration and the use of double curved tracery. The term was first used by Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois (1777–1837), and like all the terms mentioned in this paragraph except "Sondergotik" describes the style of window tracery, which is much the easiest way of distinguishing within the overall Gothic period, but ignores other aspects of style. In England the later part of the period is known as Perpendicular architecture. In Germany Sondergotik ("Special Gothic") is the more usual term.

The name derives from the flame-like windings of its tracery and the dramatic lengthening of gables and the tops of arches. A key feature is the ogee arch, originating in Beverley Minster, England around 1320, which spread to York and Durham, although the form was never widely used in England, being superseded by the rise of the Perpendicular style around 1350. A possible point of connection between the early English work and the later development in France is the church at Chaumont. The Manueline in Portugal, and the Isabelline in Spain were even more extravagant continuations of the style in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

In the past the Flamboyant style, along with its antecedent Rayonnant, has frequently been disparaged by critics. More recently some have sought to rehabilitate it. William W Clark commented:

The Flamboyant is the most neglected period of Gothic architecture because of the prejudices of past generations; but the neglect of these highly original and inventive architectural fantasies is unwarranted. The time has come to discard old conceptions and look anew at Late Gothic architecture.

Freestone (masonry)

A freestone is a stone used in masonry for molding, tracery and other replication work required to be worked with the chisel. Freestone, so named because it can be freely cut in any direction, must be fine-grained, uniform and soft enough to be cut easily without shattering or splitting. Some sources, including numerous nineteenth century dictionaries, say that the stone has no grain, but this is incorrect. Oolitic stones are generally used, although in some countries soft sandstones are used; in some churches an indurated chalk called clunch is employed for internal lining and for carving. Some believe that freemason originally meant one who is capable of carving freestone.


Fretwork is an interlaced decorative design that is either carved in low relief on a solid background, or cut out with a fretsaw, coping saw, jigsaw or scroll saw. Most fretwork patterns are geometric in design. The materials most commonly used are wood and metal. Fretwork is used to adorn furniture and musical instruments. The term is also used for tracery on glazed windows and doors. Fretwork is also used to adorn/decorate architecture, where specific elements of decor are named according to their use such as eave bracket, gable fretwork or baluster fretwork, which may be of metal, especially cast iron or aluminum.

Fretwork patterns originally were ornamental designs used to decorate objects with a grid or a lattice. Designs have developed from the rectangular wave Greek fret to intricate intertwined patterns. A common misconception is that fretwork must be done with a fretsaw. However, a fretwork pattern is considered a fretwork whether or not it was cut out with a fretsaw.

Computer numerical control (CNC) has brought about change in the method of timber fretwork manufacture. Lasers or router/milling cutting implements can now fashion timber and various other materials into flat and even 3D decorative items.

Grove House, Manchester

Grove House, in Oxford Road, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, is an early Victorian building, originally three houses, of 1838–40. It is a Grade II* listed building as of 18 December 1963.Pevsner described it as "a large detached house set back from the street." The house is of "scored stucco on brick with a hipped slate roof. It has a round-headed central doorway with keystone and a fanlight with slender radiating tracery." It was first occupied by the university ca. 1952. and has had various uses since then, including as a student health centre.

Hannah cum Hagnaby

Hannah cum Hagnaby is a civil parish in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. It is situated approximately 4 miles (6 km) north-east from Alford, and 15 miles (24 km) south-east from Louth The parish contains two small hamlets, Hannah and Hagnaby.

Hannah was used in the Bronze age as there is evidence of a Round Barrow.

In antiquity Hannah was known as Hannay. The church, located in Hannah, is dedicated to Saint Andrew and is a Grade I listed building, built of greenstone about 1758, with early 19th, and some 20th-century, alterations.Hagnaby Priory, later Hagnaby Abbey, was situated in Hagnaby. Pevsner states that a Premonstratensian priory, founded in 1175, stood 0.5 miles (0.8 km) to the north of the village. Fragments of the priory, including octagonal shafts and window tracery, exist at Hagnaby Abbey Farm 1.25 miles (2.0 km) to the west. English Heritage has noted the existence of the suppressed priory through evidence of aerial photographs and building debris, and grassed foundations of a later formal garden and post-medieval house.

Lancet window

A lancet window is a tall, narrow window with a pointed arch at its top. It acquired the "lancet" name from its resemblance to a lance. Instances of this architectural motif are typical of Gothic church edifices of the earliest period. Lancet windows may occur singly, or paired under a single moulding, or grouped in an odd number with the tallest window at the centre.

The architectural motif first appeared in the early French Gothic period (c. 1140–1200), and later in the English period of Gothic architecture (1200–1275). So common was the lancet window feature that this era is sometimes known as the "Lancet Period".The term "lancet window" is properly applied to windows of austere form, without tracery. Paired windows were sometimes surmounted by a simple opening such as a quatrefoil cut in plate tracery. This form gave way to the more ornate, multi-light traceried windowed.

Llanfihangel Nant Brân

Llanfihangel Nant Brân is a small village lying next to the Nant Brân river in Powys, Wales about 7.5 miles (12 km) west of Brecon.

It is largely a farming community. Llanfihangel includes a church, dedicated to St. Michael, which was probably built in the 16th century and was substantially reconstructed in 1882.

Bethel Chapel was built between 1810 and 1811, and later rebuilt or modified between 1865 and 1866. It is in the simple round-headed style, of the long-wall entry type. The walls are rendered and whitewashed, with a slate eaved roof above. The windows are small-paned sashes with intersecting tracery in their heads. The interior of the chapel was gutted in 2000.

Memorial Hall, Manchester

Memorial Hall in Albert Square, Manchester, England, was constructed in 1863–1866 by Thomas Worthington. It was built to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the 1662 Act of Uniformity, when the secession of some 2,000 Anglican clergy led to the birth of Nonconformism It is a Grade II* listed building as of 14 February 1972.The style is Venetian Gothic, inspired by such buildings as the Ca' d'Oro, with fine stone tracery on all windows and a palatial exterior. Worthington designed the building after his second tour of Italy in 1858. The detailing is fine and "the subtlety of the polychromy (was) achieved by careful choice of materials".The hall provided a meeting place in the late 19th century for a host of Victorian societies, such as the Photographic, Statistical, Horticultural, Elocutionists and Positivists Societies. Other groups which used the building included the Home Missionary Board, Sir Charles Hallé’s choir and the Manchester Unitarian Sunday School Union. The ground floor and basement were let to provide an income for the maintenance of the hall.


In French Gothic architecture, Rayonnant (French pronunciation: ​[ʁɛjɔnɑ̃]) was the period between c. 1240 and 1350, characterized by a shift in focus away from the High Gothic mode of utilizing great scale and spatial rationalism (such as with buildings like Chartres Cathedral or the nave of Amiens Cathedral) towards a greater concern for two dimensional surfaces and the repetition of decorative motifs at different scales. After the mid-14th century, Rayonnant gradually evolved into the Late Gothic Flamboyant style, although the point of transition is not clearly defined.

Rose window

A rose window or Catherine window is often used as a generic term applied to a circular window, but is especially used for those found in churches of the Gothic architectural style and being divided into segments by stone mullions and tracery. The name "rose window" was not used before the 17th century and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, among other authorities, comes from the English flower name rose.The term "wheel window" is often applied to a window divided by simple spokes radiating from a central boss or opening, while the term "rose window" is reserved for those windows, sometimes of a highly complex design, which can be seen to bear similarity to a multi-petalled rose. Rose windows are also called Catherine windows after Saint Catherine of Alexandria who was sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel. A circular window without tracery such as are found in many Italian churches, is referred to as an ocular window or oculus.

Rose windows are particularly characteristic of Gothic architecture and may be seen in all the major Gothic Cathedrals of Northern France. Their origins are much earlier and rose windows may be seen in various forms throughout the Medieval period. Their popularity was revived, with other medieval features, during the Gothic revival of the 19th century so that they are seen in Christian churches all over the world.

Tracery (horse)

Tracery (1909–1924) was an American-bred, British-trained Thoroughbred racehorse and sire, best known for winning the St. Leger Stakes in 1912. In a career which lasted from June 1912 until October 1913 he ran nine times and won six races. After finishing third on his debut in the 1912 Epsom Derby Tracery never lost another completed race at level weights. He won the St. James's Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes and St. Leger Stakes in 1912 and the Eclipse Stakes and Champion Stakes as a four-year-old in 1913. He was brought down by a protester in the 1913 Ascot Gold Cup. After his retirement from racing he became a highly successful breeding stallion in Britain and Argentina.

Wood carving

Wood carving is a form of woodworking by means of a cutting tool (knife) in one hand or a chisel by two hands or with one hand on a chisel and one hand on a mallet, resulting in a wooden figure or figurine, or in the sculptural ornamentation of a wooden object. The phrase may also refer to the finished product, from individual sculptures to hand-worked mouldings composing part of a tracery.

The making of sculpture in wood has been extremely widely practiced, but survives much less well than the other main materials such as stone and bronze, as it is vulnerable to decay, insect damage, and fire. It therefore forms an important hidden element in the art history of many cultures. Outdoor wood sculptures do not last long in most parts of the world, so it is still unknown how the totem pole tradition developed. Many of the most important sculptures of China and Japan in particular are in wood, and so are the great majority of African sculpture and that of Oceania and other regions. Wood is light and can take very fine detail so it is highly suitable for masks and other sculpture intended to be worn or carried. It is also much easier to work on than stone.

Some of the finest extant examples of early European wood carving are from the Middle Ages in Germany, Russia, Italy and France, where the typical themes of that era were Christian iconography. In England, many complete examples remain from the 16th and 17th century, where oak was the preferred medium.

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