The use of wood as a building material is very remote, as shown by the huts on stilts from the Neolithic age; near the ancient civilizations (Egypt, Greece, Etruria, Rome) it was widespread in already technologically advanced forms. It was always influenced by the greater or lesser availability of wooden material, so the greatest developments in wood architecture took place in the Nordic countries, in Russia, in the East (Japan) and in the mountainous areas of the Mediterranean countries.
The applications of wood to architecture are complex and varied, extending from the simple subsidiary use for constructions in other materials (scaffolding, reinforcement, roofing, interior decorations), to the realization of entirely wood or “mixed” structures, in which the framework in wood it has a load-bearing function.
The most striking aspect of all-wood structures is the different types of roofing: from the simple slab (Egypt, countries with warm climate) to the truss in its elemental form (from the early Christian to the Romanesque period) or in the more complex hull of ship (Islamic and Romanesque architecture), to the richly decorated large flat ceilings (from the Renaissance to the Baroque, especially in France and England).
Naturally, the most original and complex aspects of the use of wood can be traced in constructions designed and built entirely in such material, such as bridges (for example the Bassano bridge), military and defense works (forts, shelters), triumphal arches or other celebratory apparatuses.
As for the “mixed” structures (masonry base, wooden cage, filled with light masonry panels), they have spread since the Middle Ages in Scandinavia, England, the Netherlands, France and especially Germany, as a predominantly urban type that even today, entire neighborhoods of German cities are imprinted.
The use of wood is very ancient even for what concerns the sculpture. This, performed through the technique of carving, ie digging into the material by means of the chisel or the burin, is in fact present in Western culture since classical antiquity. Although lacking precise documentation, given the availability of the material, it can be said that Greeks and Romans used wood for sacred images. Starting from the eleventh century, the maximum development of the wooden statuary took place with the Romanesque art and then with the Gothic one, especially in the German regions. In fact, more than stone, wood allowed the subtle play of lines and planes of these figurative cultures, while the use of polychromy accentuated its expressive possibilities. The humanistic and Renaissance culture brought the almost complete polychrome wooden statues abandonment, it was again used to populate the Lombard-Piedmontese Sacred Mountains, the Neapolitan nativity scenes, the Spanish altars. Finally, in the eighteenth century, wood was used extensively for statues of saints and angels, often gilded and of small size, and in the decoration of villas and palaces in a manner similar to the stucco.
In addition to architecture and sculpture, wood has been widely used since ancient times for home furnishings and furnishings.
However, only the dry climate of Egypt allowed the recovery of numerous wooden objects (furniture, sarcophagi, caskets, boats, etc.) in the Pharaonic tombs. Woodworking was also a great success in Islam, and almost all the mosques have their furnishings in this material, often finely worked with arabesques, geometric weaves, etc .; widespread also the technique of inlaying ivory, bone and mother of pearl, on colored and precious woods, such as ebony and teak, even for small objects of private use. But it is above all in the furnishing of every age that this material, worked with extraordinary richness of forms, variously carved, decorated or even inlaid with precious materials, has always played a fundamental role.