Marquetry – A Brief History
Marquetry can be traced back to Mesopotamia in around 2600BC, where ivory was inset in bitumen to create a picture of daily and royal life.
The first recorded use of different wood veneers and semi precious stones to decorate furniture dates back to the court of the Pharoahs in Egypt.
The craft crossed the Mediterraneum to Ancient Greece where it is described in Homer’s Odyssey Book 23 and it became even more sophisticated at the height of the Roman Empire. (Pliny The Elder: Book 16)
In the 11th Century wood veneers were being used to decorate church furniture and panels in Italy, with particularly fine examples being found in Sienna.
Sorrento has always been renowned for its wide range of marquetry pieces right up to the present day
In France marquetry became extremely popular during the reign of Louis X1V (1643-1715), where Andre Charles Boule, a master craftsman, worked in the royal workshops. He used a variety of materials…..brass, silver, tortoise shell, pewter, ebony….to create exquisite craftwork.
Marquetry became popular in England after 1660 following the return from exile of Charles The Second. He brought back with him Dutch and Huguenot craftsmen, who excelled at the craft.
William and Mary’s arrival from Holland in 1689, further increased the popularity of this flamboyant way of decorating furniture. Marquetry brought colour and beauty to furniture, which was in sharp contrast to the plain furniture advocated during the interregnum of Oliver Cromwell.
At this time explorers were returning from Africa and the Americas with exotic new woods such as kingwood, ebony, rosewood and satinwood, which stimulated interest in marquetry.
We can only marvel at the skill, artistry and patience of the craftsmen of the 17th and 18th Centuries, who worked with rudimentary tools to create great works of art.
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A wide range of marquetry techniques have evolved over many years. so I would only scratch the surface if I attempted to discuss them in this short post.
I can only point you in the right direction by listing book titles, tutorial videos and links to marquetry societies. I hope you will also be inspired by the photos of outstanding pieces, which I have included below.
All of the following books are available through Amazon.
The Art of Fine Marquetry
Describes the tools and materials required…..
How to select the best wood for your design
The way you can shade with hot sand….
Step by step instructions on how to make a box with a marquetry top
Created by James Coulter who is based in Ontario, Canada.
The reflection of the sails in the water has been achieved so cleverly
Beginning Picture Marquetry
Comprehensive introduction to picture marquetry.
Tools and accessories required.
Two simple, attractive projects demonstrating the basic techniques for creating pictures
Created by Mohsen Kaveh. who lives in Tehran, where he has received many awards
Some of his work uses over 6000 pieces
Recommended for those people just taking up the craft.
Step by step instructions on how to create a picture.
How to cut, lay and seal.
This vibrant artwork has been created by Jean Paul Straub, who was born in Strasbourg, but moved to St Martins in the Antilles in 1993
Basic Marquetry and Beyond
40 projects from simple bookmarks to a cone shaped bowl.
Easy to follow patterns which enable you to embellish your woodworking projects with stunning designs
This village scene has been created by Jean Claude Spindler, whose grandfather opened a marquetry workshop in a former Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of St Leonard, in the Alsatian Piedmont region of France at the end of the 19th Century.
Comprehensive overview of tools and materials, cutting techniques, tinting and shading, banding and fillets, composition and finishing
Antique Sorrento ware tray inlaid with silver, brass. pewter, tortoise shell and ebony