Intarsia and Marquetry

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By the same Author

Mural Painting—the Decoration of the Wall Surface by means of Paint

Mosaic and Marble Inlay for Floor, Wall, and Vault


Intarsia and Marquetry



Examiner to the Board of Education in Principles
of Ornament

With Illustrations from Photographs and from Drawings and Tracings by the Author




Historical Notes—Antiquity,1
Italy in Mediæval and Renaissance Times,8
The Cloistered Intarsiatori and their Pupils,55
In Germany and Holland, England and France,84
The Process of Manufacture,104
The Limitations and Capabilities of the Art,118
Workshop Receipts,133


1. Patterns used in Borders,facing page8
2. Various Patterns of Borders, 9
3. Chair Back from S. Ambrogio, Milan, 10
4. Door of the Sala del Papa, Palazzo Comunale, Siena, 13
5. The Prophet Amos. Figure intarsia from the Sacristy of the Cathedral, Florence,}
6. The Annunciation. Figure intarsia from the Sacristy of the Cathedral, Florence,between pages 18 and 19
7. The Prophet Hosea. Figure intarsia from the Sacristy of the Cathedral, Florence, 
8. The Nativity. Figure intarsia from the Sacristy of the Cathedral, Florence,facing page20
9. The Presentation in the Temple. Figure Intarsia from the Sacristy of the Cathedral, Florence, 21
10. Panel from Sacristy of S. Croce, Florence, 23
11. Detail of Frieze from the Sacristy of S. Croce, Florence, 24
12. Lower Seats of Choir, Cathedral, Perugia, 25
13. Upper Seats of Choir, Cathedral, Perugia, 26
14. One Panel, from Upper Series, Cathedral, Perugia, 27
15. Two Panels from the Sala del Cambio, Perugia, 28
16. Frieze from S. Mark’s, Venice, 30
17. Frieze from S. Mark’s, Venice, 32
18. Stalls from the Cathedral, Lucca, 33
19. Lectern in Pinacoteca, Lucca, 34
20. Two-leaved Door in the Pinacoteca, Lucca, 35
21. Stalls at the Certosa, Pavia, 36
22. Detail of Arabesques, lower Seats, Certosa, Pavia, 37
23. Panel from S. Petronio, Bologna, 38
24. Panel from S. Petronio, Bologna, 39
25. Panel from S. Miniato, Florence, 40
26. Panel from S. Maria Novella, Florence, 42
27. Panel from S. Maria Novella, Florence, 44
28. Panel in Sacristy of S. Pietro in Casinense, Perugia, 46
29. Panel from Door of Sala del Cambio, Perugia, 48
30. Panel from lower row of Stalls, S. Maria in Organo, Verona, 59
31. Panels from Monte Oliveto Maggiore, now in the Cathedral, Siena, 60
32. Frieze from Monte Oliveto Maggiore, 62
33. Panel from S. Mark’s, Venice, 68
34. Panel from Door in Choir of S. Pietro in Casinense, Perugia, 74
35. Lunette from Stalls in Cathedral, Genoa, 77
36. Panel from lower row of Stalls, Cathedral, Savona, 78
37. Panel from the Ducal Palace, Mantua, 80
38. Panel from the Rathaus, Breslau, 1563, 84
39. Panel from Church of S. Mary Magdalene, Breslau, 86
40. Pilaster Strip from the Magdalene Church, Breslau, 87
41. Panel from S. Elizabeth’s Church, Breslau, 88
42. Lower Panel of Door, 1564—Tyrolese, 90
43. Top of Card Table in the Drawing-room, Roehampton House; Dutch, 18th Century, 92
44. Panelling from Sizergh Castle, now in Victoria and Albert Museum 93
45. Cabinet with falling front, in the Drawingroom, Roehampton House, 94
46. Cabinet belonging to Earl Granville. Boulle work of about 1740, 96
47. Top of Writing Table in the Saloon, Roehampton House. Period of Louis XV., 97
48. Encoignure, signed J. F. Oeben, in the Jones Bequest. Victoria and Albert Museum, 98
49. Panel from back of Riesener’s bureau, made for Stanislas Leczinski, with figure of Secrecy, 100
50. Roundel from bureau, made for Stanislas Leczinski, King of Poland, now in the Wallace Collection, 102
51. Antonio Barili at work, by himself, 104
52. Panel from the Victoria and Albert Museum, 106
53. Panel from S. Maria in Organo, Verona, 122
54. Panel from S. Maria in Organo, Verona, 126
55. Panel from S. Pietro in Casinense, Perugia, 130


If there is one quality which more than another marks the demand of the present day it is the requirement of novelty. In every direction the question which is asked is not, “Is this fresh thing good? Is it appropriate to, and well-fitted for, its intended uses?” but “Is it novel?” And the constant change of fashion sets a premium upon the satisfaction of this demand and enlists the commercial instinct on the side of perpetual change. While there are directions in which this desire is not altogether harmful, since at least many monstrosities offend our eyes but for a short time, a full compliance with it by the designer is likely to prove disastrous to his reputation, and recent phases in which an attempt has been made to throw aside as effete and outworn the forms which have gradually grown with the centuries, and to produce something entirely fresh and individual, have shown how impossible it is at this period of the world’s history to dispense with tradition, and, escaping from the accumulated experience of the race, set forth with childlike naïveté. Careful study of these experiments discloses the fact that in as far as they are successful in proportion and line they approach the successes of previous generations, and that the undigested use of natural motifs results not in nourishment but in nightmare.

The object aimed at by this series of handbooks is the recall of the designer and craftsman to a saner view of what constitutes originality by setting before them something of the experience of past times, when craft tradition was still living and the designer had a closer contact with the material in which his design was carried out than is usual at present. Since both design and craftsmanship as known until the end of the 18th century were the outcome of centuries of experience of the use of material and of the endeavour to meet daily requirements, it may be justly called folly to cast all this aside as the fripperies of bygone fashion which cramp the efforts of the designer, and attempt to start afresh without a rag of clothing, even if it were possible. At the same time it is not intended to advocate the direct copyism of any style, whether regarded as good, bad, or indifferent. Some minds find inspiration in the contemplation of natural objects, while others find the same stimulus in the works of man. The fashion of present opinion lays great stress upon the former source of inspiration, and considers the latter heretical, while, with a strange inconsistency, acclaiming a form of design based upon unnatural contortions of growth, and a treatment which is often alien to the material. It is the hope of the author to assist the second class of mind to the rivalling of the ancient glories of design and craftsmanship, and perhaps even to convert some of those whose talents are at present wasted in the chase of the will-o’-the-wisp of fancied novelty and individuality. Much of what appears to the uneducated and ill-informed talent as new is really but the re-discovery of motifs which have been tried and abandoned by bygone masters as unsuitable, and a greater acquaintance with their triumphs is likely, one would hope, to lead students, whether designers or craftsmen, to view with disgust undigested designs indifferently executed which have little but a fancied novelty to recommend them.

It is intended that each volume shall contain an historical sketch of the phase of design and craft treated of, with examples of the successful overcoming of the difficulties to be encountered in its practice, workshop recipes, and the modes of producing the effects required, with a chapter upon the limitations imposed by the material and the various modes of evading those limitations adopted by those who have not frankly accepted them.


The subject treated of in this handbook has, until lately, received scant attention in England; and except for short notices of a general nature contained in such books as Waring’s “Arts Connected with Architecture,” technical descriptions, such as those in Holtzapffel’s “Turning and Mechanical Manipulation,” and a few fugitive papers, has not been treated in the English language. On the Continent it has, however, been the subject of considerable research, and in Italy, Germany, and France books have been published which either include it as part of the larger subject of furniture, or treat in considerable detail instances of specially-important undertakings. From these various sources I have endeavoured to gather as much information as possible without too wearying an insistence upon unimportant details, and now present the results of my selection for the consideration of that part of the public which is interested in the handicrafts which merge into art, and especially for the designer and craftsman, whose business it is or may be to produce such works in harmonious co-operation in the present day, as they often did in days gone by, and, it may be hoped, with a success akin to that attained in those periods to which we look back as the golden age of art.

The books from which I have drawn my information are principally the following:—

In Italian—Borghese and Banchi’s “Nuovi documenti per la storia dell’ Arte Senese”; Brandolese’s “Pitture, sculture, &c., di Padova”; Caffi’s “Dei lavori d’intaglio in legname e d’intarsia nel Cattedrale di Ferrara”; Calvi’s “Dei professori de belle arti che fiorirono in Milano ai tempi dei Visconti, &c.”; Saba Castiglione’s “Ricordi”; Erculei’s paper in his “Catalogue of the Exhibition of works of carving and inlay held at Rome in 1885”; Finocchietti’s “Report on carving and inlaid work in the Jurors’ report on the Exhibition of 1867 in Paris”; Lanzi’s “History of Painting in Italy”; Locatelli’s “Iconografia Italiana”; Marchese’s “Lives of Dominican Artists”; Milanesi’s “Documenti per la Storia dell’ Arte Senese”; Morelli’s “Notizie d’opere di disegno nella prima metà dell’ Secolo XVI.”; Tassi’s “Vite di pittori, architetti, &c., Bergamaschi”; Temanza’s “Vite dei piu celebri architetti, &c., Dominicani”; Tiraboschi’s “Biblioteca Modenese”; Della Valle’s “Lettere Senesi sopra le belle Arti”; Vasari’s “Lives,” with Milanesi’s notes and corrections, and papers in the “Bullettino di Arti, Industrie e Curiosità Veneziane,” the “Atti e memorie della Società Savonese,” the “Archivio Storico dell’ Arte and its continuation as L’Arte,” and the “Archivio Storico Lombardo,” by such men as Michele Caffi, G. M. Urb, Ottavio Varaldo, Francesco Malaguzzi Valeri and L. T. Belgrano.

In German—Becker and Hefner Alteneck’s “Kunstwerke and Geräths Schaften des Mittelalters und der Renaissance”; Bucher’s “Geschichte der Technischen Kunst”; Burckhardt’s “Additions to Kugler’s Geschichte der Baukunst, and Geschichte der Renaissance in Italien”; Demmin’s “Studien über die Stofflich-bildenden Künste”; Von Falke’s “Geschichte des deutsches Kunstgewerbes”; Scherer’s “Technik und Geschichte der Intarsia”; Schmidt’s “Schloss Gottorp”; Seeman’s “Kunstgewerbliche Handbücher”; Teirich’s “Ornamente aus der Blüthezeit italienischer Renaissance,” and articles in “Blätter für Kunstgewerbe,” and the “Kunstgewerbeblatt of the Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst,” by such men as Teirich, Issel and Ilg.

In French—Asselineau’s “A. Boulle, ébéniste de Louis 14”; Burckhardt’s “Le Cicerone”; Champeaux’s “Le bois appliquée au mobilier,” and “Le meuble”; Demmin’s “Encyclopédie historique, archeologique, &c.”; Luchet’s “L’Arte industriel à l’Exposition Universelle de 1867,” and other encyclopædias.

In English—”The handmaid to the arts”; Holtzapffel’s “Turning and mechanical manipulation”; Pollen’s paper on “Furniture in the Kensington Catalogue of Ancient and Modern furniture”; Leader Scott’s “The Cathedral builders”; Tomlinson’s “Cyclopædia of Useful Arts”; Waring’s “The Arts connected with architecture”; and Digby Wyatt’s “Industrial Arts of the 19th Century,” together with detached articles found in various publications.

Those who desire further examples of arabesque patterns may find them in Issel’s “Wandtäfelungen und Holzdecken”; Lacher’s “Mustergültige holzintarsien der Deutschen Renaissance aus dem 16 und 17 Jahrhundert”; Lachner’s “Geschichte der Holzbaukunst in Deutschland”; Lichtwark’s “Der ornamentstich der deutschen Frührenaissance”; Meurer’s “Italienische Flachornamente aus der Zeit der Renaissance”; Teirich’s “Ornamente aus der Blüthezeit italienischer Renaissance,” and Rhenius “Eingelegte Holzornamente der Renaissance in Schlesien von 1550-1650.”

I have thought it better to run the risk of incompleteness than to overload the text with the mere names of indifferent designers and craftsmen about whom and whose work scarcely anything is known, believing that my object would be attained more surely by pointing to the work and lives of those about whose capacity there can be no question.

My thanks are due to the officials of the British Museum Library and of the Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the great assistance which they have given me in many ways, the facilities afforded me, and their unfailing kindness and courtesy; and to the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum for similar kindness and assistance.

I have also to thank my friend Mr. C. Bessant, whose experience in all kinds of cabinet work is so great, for very kindly looking over the section dealing with the processes of manufacture.

F. Hamilton Jackson.



The word “intarsia” is derived from the Latin “interserere,” to insert, according to the best Italian authorities, though Scherer says there was a similar word, “Tausia,” which was applied to the inlaying of gold and silver in some other metal, an art practised in Damascus, and thence called damascening; and that at first the two words meant the same thing, but after a time one was applied to work in wood and the other to metal work. In the “Museo Borbonico,” xii., p. 4, xv., p. 6, the word “Tausia” is said to be of Arabic origin, and there is no doubt that the art is Oriental. It perhaps reached Europe either by way of Sicily or through the Spanish Moors. “Marquetry,” on the other hand, is a word of much later origin, and comes from the French “marqueter,” to spot, to mark; it seems, therefore, accurate to apply the former term to those inlays of wood in which a space is first sunk in the solid to be afterwards filled with a piece of wood (or sometimes some other material) cut to fit it, and to use the latter for the more modern practice of cutting several sheets of differently-coloured thin wood placed together to the same design, so that by one cutting eight or ten copies of different colours may be produced which will fit into each other, and only require subsequent arranging and glueing, as well as for the more artistic effects of the marquetry of the 17th and 18th centuries, which were produced with similar veneers. The process of inlaying is of the most remote antiquity, and the student may see in the cases of the British Museum, at the Louvre, and in other museums, examples of both Assyrian and Egyptian inlaid patterns of metal and ivory, or ebony or vitreous pastes, upon both wood and ivory, dating from the 8th and 10th centuries before the Christian Era, or earlier. The Greeks and Romans also made use of it for costly furniture and ornamental sculpture; in Book 23 of the “Odyssey,” Ulysses, describing to Penelope the bride-bed which he had made, says—”Beginning from this head-post, I wrought at the bedstead till I had finished it, and made it fair with inlaid work of gold, and of silver, and of ivory”; the statue and throne of Jupiter at Olympia had ivory, ebony, and many other materials used in its construction, and the chests in which clothes were kept, mentioned by Homer, were some of them ornamented with inlaid work in the precious metals and ivory. Pausanias describes the box of Kypselos, in the opisthodomos of the Temple of Hera, at Olympia, as elliptical in shape, made of cedar wood and adorned with mythological representations, partly carved in wood and partly inlaid with gold and ivory, in five strips which encircled the whole box, one above another. The Greek words for inlaying used by Homer and Pindar are “????????” and “??????,” and their derivatives, the first being also used for embroidering; Homer and Hesiod also use “????????” for “inlaid,” which shows how closely at that time the arts were interwoven. These words have left no trace in the later terms, though ?????? means to fix together, or to glue, and it is tempting to connect the French word “coller” with it. Vitruvius and Pliny use the words “cerostrata” or “celostrata,” which means, strictly speaking, “inlaid with horn,” and “xilostraton.” The woods used by the Greeks were ebony, cypress, cedar, oak, “sinila,” yew, willow, lotus (celtis australis), and citron (thuyia cypressoides), a tree which grew on the slopes of the Atlas mountains. The value of large slabs of this last was enormous. Pliny says that Cicero, who was not very wealthy according to Roman notions, spent 500,000 sesterces (about £5400) for one table. Asinius Pollio spent £10,800, King Juba £13,050, and the family of the Cethegi £15,150 for a single slab. The value of this wood consisted chiefly in the beautiful lines of the veins and fibres; when they ran in wavy lines they were called “tigrinæ,” tiger tables; when they formed spirals like so many little whirlpools they were called “pantherinæ,” or panther tables, and when they had undulating, wavy marks like the filaments of a feather, especially if resembling the eyes on a peacock’s tail, they were very highly esteemed. Next in value were those covered with dense masses of grain, called “apiatæ,” parsley wood. But the colour of the wood was also a great factor in the value, that of wine mixed with honey being most highly prized. The defect in that kind of table was called “lignum,” which denoted a dull, log colour, with stains and flaws and an indistinctly patterned grain. Pliny says the barbarous tribes buried the wood in the ground when green, giving it first a coating of wax. When it came into the workmen’s hands they put it for a certain number of days under a heap of corn, by which it lost weight. Sea water was supposed to harden it and act as a preservative, and after bathing it, it was carefully polished by rubbing by hand. The use of such valuable wood naturally led to the use of veneers, and the practice was universal in costly furniture. The word “xilotarsia” was used by the Romans to designate a kind of mosaic of wood used for furniture decoration. Its etymology suggests that the Greeks were then masters in the art. They divided works in tarsia into two classes—”sectile,” in which fragments of wood or other material were inserted in a surface of wood, and “pictorial,” in which the various pieces of wood covered the ground entirely. The slices of wood, “sectiles laminæ,” were laid down with glue, as in modern work. Wild and cultivated olive, box, ebony (Corsican especially), ilex, and beech were used for veneering boxes, desks, and small work. Besides these the Romans used the citrus, Syrian terebinth, maple, palm (cut transversely), holly, root of the elder, and poplar; the centres of the trees being most prized for colour and markings. [See note giving extracts from Pliny.[1]]

A few notes on the exceptional scantlings of timber in antiquity may be interesting, though not strictly belonging to our subject. A stick of fir prepared to repair a bridge over the Naumachia in the time of Nero was left unused for some time to satisfy public curiosity. It measured 120 feet by 2 feet the entire length. The mast of the vessel which brought the large obelisk from Egypt, afterwards set up in the Circus Maximus, and now in front of S. John Lateran, was 100 feet by 1½ feet, and the tree out of which it was cut required four men, holding hands, to surround it. A stick of cedar, cut in Cyprus and used as the mast of an undecireme, or 11 banked galley of Demetrius, took three men to span the tree out of which it was cut. It was the exceptional sizes of such pieces of timber, and veneers cut from them, which made the value of tables in Rome.

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