Glossary Intro and Glossary Annexes


under construction 03-29-2015

Intarsia is the term applied to those inlays in wood where, first, a receiving space is carved out of the surface in preparation for reciving, second, another piece of wood, or some other material, cut to fit it. As a term, intarsia derives from the Latin "interserere," to insert. The Oxford English Dictionary characterizes the term as a kind of mosaic inlaid work in wood of various colors and shades. Historically, the Nonesuch chests are famous as examples of intarsia.

Trompe l'oeil a French art-historical term for a painting that deceives the viewer into thinking that represented objects are real is thought to be most effectively achieved with a form of marquetry called Intarsia.


The Nonesuch (or Nonsuch) Chest is a modern term for renaissnce chests where inlaid designs represent formal architectural views. By British joiners, likely under Flemish influence, both in the late 16th-century and early 17th-century, the name Nonesuch originates from a 19th-century belief that the designs represent Henry VIII's Palace of Nonesuch at Cheam, Surrey. These are inlaid with formalized architectural designs -- lower stylized diagram on left -- thought possibly to represent the Palace of Nonsuch, or Nonesuch, at Ewell, Surrey.


It is in Britain where intarsia panels -- often illustrating buildings -- are used in Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture, especially the fronts of chests and the headboards of beds.

marquetry-- of much later origin -- comes from the French "marqueter", to spot, to mark. Thus, in distinguishing intarsia from marquetry, with intarsia, it means to apply the 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...

With marquetry, it means a more modern practice of cutting several sheets of differently-colored thinly-sliced wood, then placing them together to form the same design, where, by cutting precisely the required number of different colors produces enough slices to fit together into a design, and then only require subsequent arranging and glueing. More artistic effects are obtained by the marquetry practised by such cabinetmakers as Gerreit Jensen in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Taken together, they are a process of inlaying, a practice

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... .


Frederick Hamilton Jackson, Intarsia and marquetry New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903. Contents: Historical notes; Italy in mediaeval and renaissance times; The cloistered intarsiatori and their pupils; In Germany and Holland, England and France; The process of manufacture; The limitations and capabilities of the art; Workshop receipts.

Harold Osborne, ed., Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts New York: Oxford University Press 1975, page 595; Arthur F Kinney and David W Swain, eds., Tudor England: An Encyclopedia New York: Routledge, 2000, pages 632-633; also illustration, page 325 Connoisseur's Guide to Antique Furniture. v