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What is Marquetry Inlay?

Updated: 3 days ago

Marquetry is a technique where different types of wood veneer and dyed woods are cut out and inlaid in to a surface to create a picture or design. In this blog we will look at the history of marquetry in antique furniture and how it was created.

marquetry inlay of an abbey ruin inlaid into a French antique bureau plat writing table in the manner of Joseph Cremer

Beautiful pieces of furniture were created using marquetry technique. Pale, close grain woods like sycamore and maple were dyed which created vibrant colours, and different woods were selected with colour variations and figuring.

Popular woods used for marquetry which can be seen in antique furniture are walnut, ebony, tulipwood, kingwood, boxwood, purpleheart and rosewood.


How was marquetry created in antique furniture?

A variation of wood veneers would be selected and layered together to create a sandwich. This could be between 5 - 20 different types, including dyed woods. A pattern would be drawn out and applied to the top layer, this pattern would then be cut out using a fret saw. Multiple copies of the same design could be produced using a variation of colourways and wood veneers.

Before electric machinery was used, the wood veneers would have been sawn by hand and the fret saw used would have been foot treadle operated. A huge amount of work would have gone into creating such designs as it was all done by hand, from sawing the veneers, drawing the designs, cutting out the patterns, gluing them together, sanding and polishing.

Once the pattern had been cut out, it left small individual pieces. These pieces could then be scorched in hot sand on the edges to create depth and a 3D element to the designs. The individual pieces were then glued down which made intricate designs.

The image on the left shows the scorched edges of the veneers.

Once the designs had been applied to the furniture, they would then be sanded, oiled and French polished which brought the designs to life.

What is the history of marquetry inlay?

Marquetry dates back to antient Egyptian times, when woods, stone and metals would be used and inlaid in to a surface to create decorative objects.

Many different forms of marquetry were adapted by various countries using different materials, however the technique was imported into France in the 17th century. Ornate and luxurious pieces were created and became popular in the royal households. We have previously looked at another form of marquetry inlay using tortoise shell and brass in a previous blog post, made famous by Andre Charles Boulle

Jean Henri Riesener is one of the most famous furniture makers who used wood marquetry in his pieces. Complex, intricate floral and figural designs were used along with bronze gilt mounts adorning his pieces.

English marquetry typically consists of floral designs including swags and ribbons which were used by furniture makers like Edwards & Roberts, Thomas Sheraton and Maple & Co.

Furniture and clocks with marquetry inlay are not only pleasing to look at but they are also an appreciation of someone's artistry in a time when everything was done by hand


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