The site of Cristina Alvarez Magliano
Fine Art in Marquetry
Panel from a Cenotaph or Symbolic Coffin with Marquetry Decoration
Second half 8th century,probably Egypt. Wood (fig); mosaic with bone and four
different types of wood
.  Dimensions: H. 18 3/4 in. (47.6 cm) W. 76. 1/2 in.
(194.3 cm) Mount: H. 24 1/2 in. W. 80 1/2 in. D. 6 in. Wt. 97 lbs.
The most complete surviving example of its kind, this panel most likely comes
from a side of a cenotaph. It shows clear similarities to the carved decoration of
a group of panels found at the 'Ain al‑Sira cemetery in Egypt. It incorporates
decorative elements from both the Late Antique and Sasanian traditions. The
geometric motifs
derive directly from Roman mosaics, whereas the winglike
designs in the arch spandrels are of Sasanian derivation.
On display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gallery 451-# 37.103
At that time (1200-1350 AD) Europe was already in the deforestation process,
and its political and social geography was changing. From the estate-cities of
the middle ages were surging new groups of middle classes (incipient
bourgeoisie that will flourish later in the 18th Century) with artisans and artists
innovating in almost all economic activities that, before, were dominated by the
stratified guilds. In this period, the development of new tools gave rise to
different ways of producing goods.
Wood was the main source of fuel and construction not just locally, but
throughout Europe. Italy had great forests, abundant and diverse, thus it is not  
surprising that the use of wood for decorative purposes flourished in its cities.
The small quantities that the artisans needed for ecclesiastical and domestic
luxury works such sculpture, paneling, furniture and decoration, came from the
leftovers of the great industrial activities. "
The cutters used a fairly small variety
of species, some twenty five in all; however, the color and texture of these
indigenous woods, combined with moderate staining and glazing techniques,
were sufficient for creating clear intarsia images with a rich contrast while
allowing for more subtle modeling with soft shades and gradual tonal shifts"  
(Antoine M. Wilmering, "Italian Renaissance Intarsia and the Conservation of the
Gubbio Studiolo", pag. 3, and note #9, pag. 204. © 1999, The Metropolitan
Museum of Art).
Motives were adapted to the tastes of every area. Perspectival, figurative and
geometrical intarsia are from this time, following the more primitive 'intarsia a
toppo' from previous centuries.
Italian cities developed a variety of intarsia techniques. In general, artisans used
"shoulder knives" to cut a design on the wood panel to be decorated, first
marking it all around the model; then, some wood was taken off to a maximum
of 5 mm deep. The recess was filled with small pieces of contrasting wood,
repeating this process until the whole image was completed. The piece was
then sanded, polished and varnished, ready to be inserted or hung on walls,
shrines, chorus stands or church benches, among countless other places.
Occasionally, other materials were used to underly points of interest, shadows
or lines in the images. Ivory, metals and stones were not absent from the tastes
of the period.
The designs  showed influences from different cultures, not just the classic
Greeks, but from Islam, Egypt and early North-Europeans countries, although
artists provided matrixes that, sometimes, were adapted by the intarsiatori to
the requirements of the technique. Different workshops developed styles and
practices that were identifiable in the pieces, although not in the same way as
were the paintings or tapestries of the same period. The difficulties of the
intensive and time consuming techniques called for team work so, even in
perfectly conserved pieces, it's not possible to discern which is the hand of the
'master' or the workshop helpers. Anyway, there are many wonderful works in
exhibition today that were signed and dated, and scholars have intensely  
researched the period from art-historical viewpoint and technical examination.
Qur’an stand
Second half of 15th century Egypt
Walnut, ivory and precious wood with
marquetry  decoration
The oldest examples of furniture of this
kind in the Islamic world come from
Seljuk Anatolia in the 13th century.
The composite blazon associated with
the emirs of Sultan al-Zahir Jaqmaq
features a pen-box, the sword and a
cup.  OA 4063 In exhibition at the
Muse de Louvre, France

The second period in the development of techniques used to decorate with
wood in the western civilization can be situated in the Renaissance. This cultural
movement that spanned from the 14th to the 17th centuries (c.1350 - 1600 AD)
started  in Italy spreading later to the rest of Europe. The antiquity was re-born
(from Latin renascere); the era was "a revival of the classics" in Francesco
Petrarca's words.  
In what concerns to us, this period of transformation in the fields of philosophy,
education, social and political doctrines, was a notable influence in the
development of artistic movements. Painting started to render natural reality,
perspective deserved a deep research and a new theory, and 'liberal arts'
impacted strongly every aspect of architecture, sculpture, music, and diplomacy
and science, opening the way for the great achievements of the XVII century.
However, like any other movements in history, it didn't come unexpectedly. We
can find examples of evolution in Egypt and Spain after the fall of the Western
Roman Empire. The influence of Islamic art can be seen in works from the early
1100 AD and in the topo intarsia that later appeared with figurative and
perspectival inlaid from the XIV and XV centuries.   
The precedent twelve photos were taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
(NY). This altarpiece is shown there completely assembled. The panels lack the
precision, originality and finesse of the Gubbio "Studiolo", but show how the
images were enhanced by the use of tints, burning, and -probably- inks. The
lute, tools, lion and even the inkwell and plumes images were commonly seen in
other works from the same period. "The Last Supper" photograph is by the
Metropolitan Museum, Gallery 502, NY
Fra Damiano da Bergamo (Damiano di Antoniolo de Zambelli)  (ca. 1480–1549) made by Francesco Orlandini on
design by Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola (Italian, Vignola 1507–1573 Rome) ca. 1547–48. Walnut and intarsia of
various woods (Accession Number:–.108).
Commissioned by Claude d'Urfé, Ambassador of the King of France to the Council of Trent. Executed  in the
Convent of San Domenico at Bologna, and set up in the Chapel of the Château de la Bastie d'Urfé, near Lyons.
The altarpiece, representing the Last Supper, is signed by Fra Damiano and dated 1548.
(Photos: Cristina
Alvarez Magliano)
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