Origins and History of Marquetry


Marquetry is the art of assembling veneers from hundreds of species of wood, sometimes interspersed with gems, ivory, mother of pearl, etc. to collectively form a picture or design. It was practiced by the Egyptians over 3000 years ago, and priceless boxes, panels and furniture enriched with designs in colourful woods were left in the pyramids.

Other examples of inlay appeared in Asia Minor around 350 B.C. These were marble inlays. 

By present definition, their work is called inlay because it involved recessed areas into which small cut pieces of colourful wood were inset or inlaid. The term marquetry refers to cut pieces of native and exotic woods, sliced into veneer thickness, assembled as a design into a single sheet and then glued to a solid surface, usually wood, hardboard or particle board.

After the fall of the Roman Empire a few workshops survived in Italy. In the 14th and 15th centuries dramatic changes took place in marquetry methods. Schools of marquetry were set up, the most famous being in Florence. The veneers of this period were very thick and were shaped with a chisel. From Italy marquetry spread all over Europe. In the 17th and 18th centuries France further developed and refined the art.

Down through the ages as better methods were devised for cutting wood into thinner sheets of veneer, and better tools were developed for sawing veneers into delicate shapes and to compose intricate designs, the practice of marquetry has flourished. For marquetry, the highest art form in wood, the current period is one of vitalized revival.

The practice of marquetry as a hobby has been a vibrant one for over four decades in England where its popularity has led to the formation of a society. It is also practiced in Germany, Holland, Italy and the Carpathian region of the Soviet Union. More recently, this craft was introduced in Canada, Australia and the United States, where societies have also been formed. As a tabletop hobby, it is practiced as saw-cutting and knife-cutting techniques resulting in small intricately fitting pieces of wood veneer. It is a highly rewarding craft and is the goal of many who want woodworking as a hobby.

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