HISTORY OF MARQUETRY
The history of marquetry may be said, quoting Pierre Ramond in "Masterpieces
Of Marquetry", Vol.I, to cover at least four periods, each of them showing
some elements that characterize the development of styles, materials and
Apparently Asia Minor was the cradle of artisans who began inlaying wood or
other materials to get decorative effects on the flat surfaces of furniture or
objects for use in the everyday life.
However this is true, we can say that that kind of expressions were
commonplace of every civilization whatever its geographical location. In almost
every museum there are pieces that show a mix of carving and inlaying in a lot
of objects belonging to eras as old as 5000 to 2000 years Before Christ. The
idea was, apparently, to personalize the hunting tools, weapons, bows, knives,
just by inserting small pieces of contrasting wood, bones, horns, or stones in
For example, a knife from the 12th-11th century BC (Northwest China) made
of bronze with inlaid turquoise, in exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York, and several others with elaborate handles, are said "to signify rank
or tribal affiliation" and to be "most likely prized possessions". "A combination of
animal pommels, geometric design, and inlay characterizes knives found in
non-Chinese contexts... Somewhat similar knives are also known from
southern Siberia; however, a greater variety of forms and a higher degree of
workmanship distinguish the Inner Mongolian and Chinese examples".
Even older than these examples, pieces pertaining to the predynastic period
(3500/3200 BC) were found in many Egyptian tombs. Several palettes in the
shape of fish or birds are decorated with contrasting inlaid shells or stones.
"Palette with double bird heads with
Period: Predynastic, Naqada II
Date: ca. 3500/3300 B.C.
Southern Upper Egypt, Hierakonpolis
Medium: Greywacke, shell (?)
Dimensions: H: 13 cm (5 1/8 in.); W:
5.7 cm (2 1/4 in.)
Link to MMA
|The site of Cristina Alvarez Magliano
Fine art in marquetry
Knife, 12th–11th century B.C./ Northwest China
Bronze inlaid with turquoise
The handle and blade of this knife are cast as a single
piece, topped by a ram's head with powerful curving
horns. Turquoise inlay accentuates the ram's eyes. A
series of thick parallel lines along the hilt is the only
other decoration on the knife.
(Confr.) "Knife [Northwest China] (49.136.9)". In Heilbrunn Timeline
of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.
|An example from circa 1814/1805 B.C., is this
piece "Cosmetic Box of the Cupbearer Kemeni",
Upper Egypt; Thebes, found in the Tomb of
Medium: Cedar, with ebony and ivory veneer and
Dimensions: l. 28.5 cm (11 1/4 in); w. 17.7 cm (6
15/16 in); h. 20.3 cm (8 in).
Link: to see the Met Museum site.
Also from Egypt, around 1427-1400 years before
Christ (New Kingdom Dynasty, reign of
Amenhotep II) is this "Inlaid Rosette" found in the
Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Merytre-Hatshepsut.
Medium: Gold, faience, red jasper, blue glass
Dimensions: diam. 2.5 cm (1 in)
Link to the MMA
Much more sophisticated were later works (2000 years BC) like these:
Pair of eyes, winged young, god's beard and wooden shrines are also good
examples of the human creativeness and the sophisticated workmanship in
"Wooden shrines densely inlaid with figural, hieroglyphic, and decorative glass elements are known
from the late sixth century B.C. onward, while glass hieroglyphs appear on fourth-century wooden
coffins and glass figures adorn Ptolemaic and later cartonnage and plaster mummy covers. Inlay
elements might be placed in separate cells or be contiguously adhered on a common background.
Drums of glass, faience, and Egyptian blue from small shrine columns have been found at
numerous sites in Egypt of the Ptolemaic Period or later and at Delos in Greece; apparently, red and
blue sections would ideally have alternated with gilded wood sections" (Citation: Inlays and shrine
elements [Egyptian] (21.2.2). In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
|Buckle, 2nd century B.C.; European Iron Age Celto-Iberian; Spain
Leaded bronze, silver, iron.
The design was created by carving out a pattern on
a bronze panel, and then hammering a thin sheet of
silver into the indentations. “This bronze and silver
buckle is unusual in that both its top and bottom
plaque are preserved" (See more here )
The Egyptian art was carried by means of commerce throughout the
Mediterranean, first to Greece and later to the Roman Empire. But this kind of
work in southern Europe from the V century BC to the early Christian period,
was clearly not in wood but in pebbles, stones, terracotta, glass, in a technique
called “Mosaic”. It was used to decorate walls, vaults, pathways, floors and any
surfaces where painting was much less durable or resilient to environmental
changes. The point is that, although using different mediums the principles of
mosaic and those of inlay were very, very similar: the juxtaposition or insertion
of small pieces of material to create images with different colors and textures
or, in other words, decorative designs created by the insertion of different
materials into a surface.
The decoration of columns in Sumerian architecture of the third millennium BC,
and the pavements of the eighth Century BC in Gordium, capital of Phrygia in
Asia Minor, seem to be the first manifestations of mosaic work. "But the first
disciplined patterns, and the first representations of figures and animals in
mosaic, appeared around the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC in cities of
the Greek world or within the Greek sphere of influence".
A notable example of this period was found -almost intact- in Greece, in Pella
(capital of Macedonia). It is from –probably- the final quarter of the fourth
Century BC (425 - 400). It has two geometrical borders and a hunting scene
and is considered one of the masterpieces of Greek mosaic.
The perspectival cubes from this period need to be mentioned. This favorite
decorative style appeared in the East and Italy during the Hellenistic period
(probably the first centuries before and after Christ), showing a pattern of
lozenges (rhombus) in three colors arranged in a form that gives the optical
illusion of perspective.This style can be found in a lot of old and modern French
furniture and even in parquetry floors, as seen during the XVII century in
Europe, when it was a favorite marquetry style.
Notwithstanding most of these objects pertain to African and Asian cultures,
Europeans were not absent from those trends. Found in the Iberian peninsula
and from the Iron Age, this buckle shows silver inlaid in bronze.
|Image: "Pebble mosaic
showing a stag hunt", Pella,
capital of Macedonia. "The
examples so far discovered
come from two grand
mansions which occupy whole
city blocks and can thus be
ascribe to leading members of
the elite."..."the figures are
developments in modelling are
achieved...and by packing
them (the pebbles) so tight as
to conceal the mortar of the
bedding. ..The inner detail of
figures is modelled by lines of
grey pebbles; there is also
some red and yellow..."
Citation for this and previous
enclosed quotation marks:
"Ancient Mosaics", Roger
Ling, Princeton University
ISBN-0-691-00404-8 - Library
of Congress Catalog Card
|"House of the Faun"
Pavement found at Pompeii.
The solid shapes advance or
recede in different ways
according to how the viewer
perceives it. Roger Ling,
|"Mosaic floor panel"
Roman Imperial Period - 2nd
century A.D. Medium: Stone,
tile, and glass. Dimensions:
H. 89 in. (226.1 cm); width 99
in. (251.5 cm).
In exhibition at the
Metropolitan Musseum of
Art, New York.
Photography Cristina Alvarez
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