Robert Carpenter – “Historical carver of great celebrity”
Robert Carpenter – from Bath, West England – was a Freeman of the City, artist and master carver. In the 19th century – and until today – Bath was a city popular with tourists since the 19th century because of its spa waters and ancient Roman baths. Bath was also a trading port, importing from and exporting to North Africa. Saracens, dressed in their traditional clothing, wearing turbans, were a normal sight in the markets of Bath.
Robert Carpenter drew on these contrasting cultures. Romans and Saracens, as the inspiration for this design of his chess sets. It seems that he worked with the artist Edward Bird, who had opened a drawing school in nearby Bristol and was a named painter to Princess Charlotte. Drawings Bird made for a chess set are of similar design to Carpenter’s sets. The drawings must have been used as a blueprint for his sets (source: G. Williams Master Pieces).
By the end of the 19th century, Robert Carpenter had developed his own distinctive style of carving. The main subjects of his ivory carvings were local domestic scenes, as hi Saracen trader, seen displaying Oriental carpets to an affluent town lady. Carpenter’s work was praised by George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, and her daughter, Princess Elizabeth. A local newspaper noted in 1817 that “They (the Queen and Princess) inspected his unique pieces of sacred and historical sculpture and expressed most unequalifed appropriation of their execution”. Other artistic work done by Carpenter were “The Decapitation of Lady Jane Gray” and “The Maid of Orleans”. After his death, believed to be around 1830, then over 80 years of age, he was mentioned in a biography asa the “historical carver of great celebrity”
Romans versus Saracens
Ivory set carved by Robert Carpenter. Romans versus Saracens. Circa 1800. Source: Williams Master Pieces.