Categories of 17th-Century Carving

Although 17th-century carvers never categorized their work, many of the motifs can be grouped into categories. Geometric, botanical, and architectural. There were, however, carvings that fit more than one category, then again, some none at all.

Geometric motifs were the most common, They were easy to lay out, requiring nothing more than a compass and straightedge. Among them, were the lunette, lozenge, rondel, guilloche, and S-scroll.

A lunette is a semicircle, curving upwards like an arch. Lunettes may appear as single,




or inverted, usually blossoming into trefoils or the like.


A lozenge is a diamond shape, usually used on panels. This diamond is often filled with a flower head, foliage or rondel, which is nothing more than a circle.


Guilloches are circles that run into each other and appear chainlike. They are composed of two rows of s-curves, often centered by a flower head or pinwheel.


S-scrolls are just as the name implies. As seen above the sides of the S can be foliated. When S-scrolls are doubled back-to-back, they are said to be “opposed” to form a heart-shaped figure.



Botanical motifs were highly stylized and, therefore, much harder to categorize. Among the botanicals were, flowers, foliage, palmettes, and quatrefoils.

Quatrefoils were popular because they allowed foliage to fit within a panel, usually centered with a flower.


Palmettes consisted of foliage climbing a central stem to a semi-circular top.


Foliage most often appeared as scrolling, leafy, shapes.



Architectural motifs derived from the local church or cathedral included arches and nulling.

The arch (as seen above surrounding the palmette) is reminiscent of the Norman arched doorway, a simple semi-circular arch resting on plain columns. This was perfect for a rectangular panel.

Nulling is a series of niches with rounded tops, resembling a row of small arches or, rather, a row of Norman windows set high in the clearstory of a cathedral.

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10 thoughts on “Categories of 17th-Century Carving

  1. Bruce

    Wow! I have seen Follansbee demonstrate these forms over the years. But this is the first time reading and seeing several of these in one place. I already have an itchy hand (two) to follow suite!

    Thanks, Ron

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ron Aylor Post author

      Thanks, Bruce. I started 17th-century carving about seven months ago and cannot get enough. I have started at Peter Follansbee’s work ’til my eyes have bled. This form of carving is quite cathartic.



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