Glossary Marquetry

Inlaid work, as in furniture; work inlaid with wood, shells, ivory, especially as used for the decoration of furniture.

In cabinetmaking, a process of decorating a surface with patterns comprising thin pieces of differently colored woods, ivory, metal, tortoise-shell, mother of pearl or other materials. In a certain sense, not unlike painting on wood, marquetry is "painting with wood". Over time, two types of marquetry have been practiced: the simpler inlaying and the more complex veneering, but fitting the various pieces of decorative material together into a thin sheet, which is then glued, much like veneering, to the surface receiving the decoration.

With the simpler marquetry, the craftsman chisels out shallow cavities in the surface of the wood and inserts the decorative materials into them. In the more complicated marquetry-- a feature begun with European cabinetmaking in the latter part of the 17th and early 18th centuries -- consists of fastening tightly together two or more sheets of wood, brass, tortoiseshell, etc., as required, with a sheet of paper on top marked out with the design. The craftsman then cuts along the lines of the design with a fine fretsaw, after which the parts cut out of the top sheet could be exactly fitted into the lower sheet and vice versa, so that there resulted two sets of marquetry for every two sheets of material employed.

Examples of Historic Usage From Oxford English Dictionary and other Sources:

A.D. 77 Pliny; P. HOLLAND, translator. Natural History of the World Volume 1, page 49: Marquetry and other inlaid works.

1563 J. SHUTE First Groundes Archit. sig. Fiv, Fine woodes in marketrey.

1589 G. PUTTENHAM Arte Eng. Poesie II. xi. 78 All set in merquetry with letters of blew Saphire and Topas artificially cut and entermingled.

1596 T. DANETT tr. P. de Commines Hist. (1614) 279 The curious worke called Musaique, or Marqueterie.

1665 T. HERBERT Some Years Trav. (new ed.) 146 Of that kind the Arabs called Marhutery, but the Jews Mosaick.

1728 E. CHAMBERS Cycl. [At Mosaic] Mosaic Work includes Marquetry, or Inlaid Work.

1817 T. MOORE Veiled Prophet in Lalla Rookh (ed. 2) 89 The flashing of their swords' rich marquetry.

1847 B. DISRAELI Tancred I. II. xiii. 275 A large table of ivory marquetry.


Practiced in ancient Egypt and during Greek and Roman times, in Europe, marquetry was practiced initially -- under the name tarsia -- in Italy during the 15th-century, in two stages. The earlier part of the century saw tarsia comprising simple chequerwork or mosiac-like geometrical patterns, giving truth to the notion "painting with wood". In the latter part of the 15th-century, in the city of Florence, a pictorial tarsia -- for decorating wall panelling, chests, cupboards, wardrobes and other furniture -- was popular.

The subject matter became more and more complex, and included landscape, architectural perspectives, still-lifes, etc., with the practitioners seeking to imitate the images typical of painters.

In the 16th century the practice of marquetry (often called tarsia) moved to Germany, executed by skilled cabinet-makers of the important south German centres of Augsburg and Nuremberg.

From Germany the craft spread to the Netherlands, France and Britain, where simple inlaid floral ornament and pictures of fanciful buildings were used to decorate the fronts of chests and the headboards of beds in Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture. During the 17th century., as the practice of veneering became more prevalent in continental Europe, a more complicated technique of marquetry was developed, first in the German principalities, then in the Low Countries and finally in France. Most famous, perhaps, is the kunstschank, a renowned cabinet now housed in a museum.

During the 2nd half of the 17th-century, painting with wood becomes a reality, where compositions of flowers and birds, executed in colored woods and reminiscent of the paintings of artists such as Andre-Charles Boulle and Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1634-99), were popular in France and Holland and the vogue spread to Britain after the 1662 Restoration. [need entry on Boulle.]

Need para for Britain, 1660-1750

1881 Francis Young, Every Man His Own Mechanic London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1881.

Section 39:-- Hungarian Ash ... suitable as a groundwork for marquetry.

title page fromfrancis young, every man his own mechanic 1891

In this case, the OED selected as an example of the use of "marquetry" as a term from one of the major authorities on amateur woodworking at the close of the 19th century, when marquetry was at a peak of particpation.

This source,

Every Man His Own Mechanic

A complete guide to even description of Constructive and Decorative Work that may be done by the Amateur Artisan. By Francis Chilton Young, Editor of the First Series of "Amateur Work, Illustrated: Amateur's Practical Library", including Carpentry for (1) River & Garden; Decorative Work for House and Home; (2) Electrical Apparatus for Amateurs; (3) Home Carpentry for Handy Men: A Book of Practical Instruction; (4) Home Carpentry for Handymen A Book of Practical Instruction in All Kinds of Constructive & Decorative Work in Wood that Can Be Done by the Amateur in House, Garden & Farmstead; (5) Metal Working For Amateurs; and (6) Ornamental Carpentry. In 3 Parts. Part 1, Wood Carving for Amateurs. Part 2, Decorative Carpentry. Part 3, Oriental Lattice Work.." Tenth Edition, Revised throughout by the Author, and including an Appendix of about 100 pages describing the New Tools of recent years. With 85 Wood Engravings, and Three Folding Supplements.(Continues below.)

"There is a fund of solid information of every kind in the work before us. which entitles it to the proud distinction of being a complete 'vade-mecum' of the subjects upon which it treats."

1895David Denning, Fretwork and Marquetry: A Practical Manual in the Art of Fret-Cutting and Marquetry Work London: L. Upcott Gill, 1895. 158 pages


Eliza Turck, A Practical Handbook to Marquestrie, Wood-Staining and Kindred Arts London: Upcott Gill, 1899.

1902 Provisional catalogue of the furniture, marbles, bronzes, clocks, candelabrabra ...; Wallace Collection (London, England) page 283

14. Small Bureau of the " Bonheur du Jour" type, in marqueterie of various natural and stained woods, with mounts and ornaments of gilt bronze, cast and chased. The simulated bindings of books in their shelves, which form a curtain to the front, are a form of decoration not unusual in this period. [This source actually contains descriiptions of over forty more pieces, but with the peculliar spelling "marqueterie".]

1930 Floyd Lavern Darrow, The story of an ancient art: from the earliest adhesives to vegetable glue 1930 Chapter I In the Workshops by the Nile, and Before THAT so prosaic a subject as glue should be associated with art, the idealistic expression of the creative spirit of man, may seem to make extravagant demands upon our powers of ...

1971 William Alexander Lincoln, The Art and Practice of Marquetry London: Thames and Hudson, 1971.
A very informative (and useful book) on a variety of matters that relate to marquetry.

1989 William Alexander Lincoln The Marquetry Manual London : Stobart, 1989.

While this book is over 30 years old, its 30-plus chapters, black-and-white and colored sketches and photos, give it lasting usefulness.