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Tilt-top table veneered in parquetry pattern by Isaac Leonard Wise, circa 1934.
The image on the cover of this box was made using the technique of marquetry.
An example Marquetry as fine art by Allashka.
Mezuzah case marquetry by Yair Emanuel.
Modern marquetry: a tangram table by Silas Kopf, with trompe l'oeil images of paper and pencil made entirely of different shades of flat veneer

Marquetry is the craft of covering a structural carcass with pieces of veneer forming decorative patterns, designs or pictures. The technique may be applied to case furniture or even seat furniture, to decorative small objects with smooth, veneerable surfaces or to free-standing pictorial panels appreciated in their own right. Parquetry is very similar in technique to marquetry: in parquetry the pieces of veneer are of simple repeating geometric shapes, forming tiling patterns such as would cover a floor (parquet), or forming basketweave or brickwork patterns, trelliswork and the like.

Marquetry (and parquetry too) differs from the more ancient craft of inlay, in which a solid body of one material is cut out to receive sections of another to form the surface pattern.



The veneers used are primarily woods, but may include bone, ivory, turtle-shell (conventionally called "tortoiseshell"), mother-of-pearl, pewter, brass or fine metals. Marquetry using colored straw was a specialty of some European spa resorts from the end of the 18th century. Many exotic woods as well as common European varieties can be employed, from the near-white of boxwood[1] to the near-black of ebony, with veneers that retain stains well, like sycamore, dyed to provide colors not offered in nature.

The simplest kind of marquetry uses only two sheets of veneer, which are temporarily glued together and cut with a fine saw, producing two contrasting panels of identical design, (in French called partie and contre-partie, "part" and "counterpart").

Marquetry as a modern craft most commonly uses knife-cut veneers: the knife used is therefore of paramount importance. However, the knife-cutting technique usually requires a lot of time. For that reason, many marquetarian have switched to fret or scroll saw techniques. Other requirements are a pattern of some kind, some cheap (i.e. not very sticky) clear sticky tape, PVA glue and a base-board. Finishing the piece will require sand-paper or wire wool, possibly with a sanding block. Either ordinary varnish, special varnishes, modern polyurethane -oil or water based- good waxes and even the technique of french polish are different methods used to seal and finish the piece.


The technique of veneered marquetry had its inspiration in 16th century Florence (and at Naples). Marquetry elaborated upon Florentine techniques of inlaying solid marble slabs with designs formed of fitted marbles, jaspers and semi-precious stones. This work, called opere di commessi, has medieval parallels in Central Italian "Cosmati"-work of inlaid marble floors, altars and columns. The technique is known in English as pietra dura, for the "hardstones" used: onyx, jasper, cornelian, lapis lazuli and colored marbles. In Florence, the Chapel of the Medici at San Lorenzo is completely covered in a colored marble facing using this demanding jig-sawn technique.

Techniques of wood marquetry were developed in Antwerp and other Flemish centers of luxury cabinet-making during the early 16th century. The craft was imported full-blown to France after the mid-seventeenth century, to create furniture of unprecedented luxury being made at the royal manufactory of the Gobelins, charged with providing furnishings to decorate Versailles and the other royal residences of Louis XIV. Early masters of French marquetry were the Fleming Pierre Golle and his son-in-law, André-Charles Boulle, who founded a dynasty of royal and Parisian cabinet-makers (ébénistes) and gave his name to a technique of marquetry employing tortoiseshell and brass with pewter in arabesque or intricately foliate designs. Boulle marquetry dropped out of favor in the 1720s, but was revived in the 1780s. In the decades between, carefully matched quarter-sawn veneers sawn from the same piece of timber were arranged symmetrically on case pieces and contrasted with gilt-bronze mounts. Floral marquetry came into favor in Parisian furniture in the 1750s, employed by cabinet-makers like Bernard van Risenbergh, Jean-Pierre Latz and Simon-François Oeben. The most famous royal French furniture veneered with marquetry are the pieces delivered by Jean Henri Riesener in the 1770s and 1780s. The Bureau du Roi was the most famous amongst these famous masterpieces.

Modern marquetry cabinet made from Tasmanian timbers

Marquetry was not ordinarily a feature of furniture made outside large urban centers. Nevertheless, marquetry was introduced into London furniture at the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the product of immigrant Dutch 'inlayers', whose craft traditions owed a lot to Antwerp. Panels of elaborately scrolling "seaweed" marquetry of box or holly contrasting with walnut appeared on table tops, cabinets, and long-case clocks. At the end of the 17th century, a new influx of French Huguenot craftsmen went to London, but marquetry in England had little appeal in the anti-French, more Chinese-inspired high-style English furniture (mis-called 'Queen Anne') after ca 1720. Marquetry was revived as a vehicle of Neoclassicism and a 'French taste' in London furniture, starting in the late 1760s. Cabinet-makers associated with London-made marquetry furniture, 1765-1790, include Thomas Chippendale and less familiar names, like William Linnell and his more famous son John Linnell, the French craftsman Pierre Langlois, and the firm of William Ince and John Mayhew.

Although marquetry is a technique separate from inlay, English marquetry-makers were called "inlayers" throughout the 18th century. In Paris, before 1789, makers of veneered or marquetry furniture (ébénistes) belonged to a separate guild from chair-makers and other furniture craftsmen working in solid wood (menuisiers).

Tiling patterning has been more highly developed in the Islamic world than anywhere else, and many extraordinary examples of inlay work have come from Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon and Iran.

At Tonbridge and Royal Tunbridge Wells, England, souvenir "Tunbridge wares"— small boxes and the like— made from the mid-18th century onwards, were veneered with panels of minute wood mosaics, usually geometric, but which could include complicated subjects like landscapes. They were made by laboriously assembling and gluing thin strips and shaped rods, which then could be sliced crossways to provide numerous mosaic panels all of the same design.

Marquetry was a feature of some centers of German cabinet-making from ca 1710. The craft and artistry of David Roentgen, Neuwied, (and later at Paris as well) was unsurpassed, even in Paris, by any 18th Century marquetry craftsman.

Marquetry was not a mainstream fashion in 18th-century Italy, but the neoclassical marquetry of Giuseppe Maggiolini, made in Milan at the end of the century is notable.

The classic illustrated description of 18th century marquetry-making was contributed by Roubo to the Encyclopédie des Arts et Métiers, 1770. The most thorough and dependable 20th century accounts of marquetry, in the context of Parisian cabinet-making, are by Pierre Verlet.

See also


  1. ^ Boxwood turns golden-tan as it ages.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MARQUETRY (Fr. marqueterie, from marqueter, to inlay, literally to mark, marquer), an inlay of ornamental woods, ivory, bone, brass and other metals, tortoise-shell, mother-ofpearl, &c., in which shaped pieces of different materials or tints are combined to form a design. It is a later development of the ornamental inlays of wood known by the name of Intarsia, and though in the main the latter was a true inlay of one or more colours upon a darker or lighter ground, while marquetry is composed of pieces of quite thin wood or other material of equal thickness laid down upon a matrix with glue, there are examples of Intarsia in which this mode of manufacture was evidently followed. For instance, the backs of the stalls in the cathedral of Ferrara show the perspective lines of some of the subjects traced upon the ground where the marquetry has fallen off, but none of the sinkings in the surface which would be there if the panels had been executed as true inlays. In the endeavour to gain greater relief, shading and tinting the wood were resorted to, the shading being generally produced by scorching, either with a hot iron or hot sand, and the tinting by chemical washes and even by the use of actual colour, but the result is usually hardly commensurate with the labour expended. A combination of tortoiseshell and metal, the one forming the ground and the other the pattern upon it, which may be classed as marquetry also appears in the 17th century. The subjects of the intarsiatori are generally arabesques or panels with elaborate perspectives, either of buildings or cupboards with different articles upon the shelves seen through half-open doors, which themselves are frequently of lattice-work delineated with extraordinary perfection, though figure subjects occur also. The later marqueteurs used a freer form of design for the most part, and scrolls and bunches of flowers appear in profusion, while if architectural forms occur they are generally in the shape of ruins amid landscape. The greater portion of the examples in England are importations, either from Holland (in which country very fine work was produced during the latter half of the 16th and 17th centuries) or from France. The reputation of the Dutch marqueteurs was so great that Colbert engaged two, named Pierre Gole and Vordt, for the Gobelins at the beginning of the 17th century. Jean Mace of Blois, the first Frenchman known to have practised the art, who was at work in Paris from 1644 (when he was lodged in the Louvre), or earlier, till 1672, as a sculptor and painter, learnt it in the Netherlands. His title was "menuisier et faiseur de cabinets et tableaux en marqueterie de bois"; but as early as 1576 a certain Hans Kraus had been called "marqueteur du roi." Jean Mace's daughter married Pierre Boulle, and the greatest of the family, Andre Charles Boulle, succeeded to his lodging in the Louvre on his death in 1672. The members of this family are perhaps the best known of the French marqueteurs. Their greatest triumphs were gained in the marquetry of metal and tortoise-shell combined with beautifully chiselled ormulu mountings; but many foreign workmen found employment in France from the time of Colbert, and some of them rose to the highest eminence. The names of Roentgen, under whom the later German marquetry perhaps reached its highest point, Riesener and Oeben, testify to their nationality. A good deal of marquetry was executed in England in the later Stuart period, mainly upon long-case clocks, cabinets and chests of drawers, and it is often of real excellence. Marquetry in a shallower form was also extensively used in the latter part of the 18th century. The most beautiful examples of the art in Italy are mainly panels of choir stalls or sacristy cupboards, though marriage coffers were also often sumptuously decorated in this manner. With the increase in luxury and display in the 17th and 18th centuries in France and Germany cabinets and escritoires became objects upon which extraordinary talent and expenditure were lavished. In South Germany musical instruments, weapons and bride chests were often lavishly decorated with marquetry. The cabinets are of elaborate architectural design with inlays of ebony and ivory or with veneers of black and white, the design counterchanging so that one cutting produced several repeats of the same pattern in one colour or the other. In modern practice as many as four or even six thicknesses are put together and so cut. When all the parts have been cut and fitted together face downwards paper is glued over them to keep them in place and the ground and the veneer are carefully levelled and toothed so as to obtain a freshly worked surface. The ground is then well wetted with glue at a high temperature and the surfaces squeezed tightly together between frames called "cauls" till the glue is hard. There are several modes of ensuring the accurate fitting of the various parts, which is a matter of the first importance.

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