Marquetry is a decoration made with leaves of veneer cut up following the lines of a drawing and stuck on a substrate which can be a piece of furinture, a board or a woodwork. The pictures produced can be figurative, abstract or geometric.
1 - Histoire de la marqueterie
Inlay is the ancestor of marquetry. This practice was used to adorn wood objects since the start of Egyptian Antiquity. It consists in hollowing some part of the wood out to place pieces of another material – bone, ivory, glass paste, stone, shagreen – or pieces of another type of wood in.
In the 16th century, the Itlians rediscovered marquetry and embellished their furniture. The marquetry reached its apex in the 17th and 18th century, in particular with the Louis XIV and Louis XV styles. It was abandoned until the end of the 19th century, date on which it revived to magnify the New Art and the Art Deco.
Antiquity & Middle Ages
The first marquetry pieces were found in Minor Asia. The technique was used by the Egyptians who embedded gemstones and ivory in pieces of furnitures and toilet bags. Even if it was widely used, it did not survive to the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, Venice and Bysantium were the main centers of production. They exported in the western world luxury objects with geometrical patterns obtained by bone, ivory and nacre inlays in dark or light woods.
The schools of art were mainly created in Italy, in Florence and Sienna and the marquetry began to stand out. The Florentins had the idea to cut thin leaves of wood with the help of a little saw called bocfil, which is still used today. They were the first ones to develop this technique in order to rediscover furniture. Marquetry arrived in France under the impulse of François the First who was fascinated by the Italian artistic richness. His reign permitted the rise of arts, literature and techniques and the professions of decorator, cabinetmaker, and marquetry specialist developped considerably.
Marquetry expanded once more in Holland and became very fashionable in France in the middle of the century thanks to Jean Macé, “First Cabinetmaker of the King” Louis XIV, trained with maquetry specialists from Middelburg, (Zeeland, Netherlands). Colbert gathered a selection of marquetry specialists from the Gobelins, among them Jacques Sommer and the Dutchman Pierre Golle. Recovering an Italian technique called Tarsia Incastro, André Charles Boules updated the process by adding inlays of nacre or tortoiseshell in copper and tin.
From the 18th century to nowadays.
At the beginning of the 18th century, French marquetry is replaced by lacquer and varnishes, before producing some of its best works thanks to Charles Cressent, Jean François Œben and Jean-Henri Riesener. Through trade, more than 50 varieties of exotic wood and 50 ingenous ones are available in 1770. Marquetry shrank under the Empire and the Restauration, but its techniques improoved under the reign of Napoléon III.
At the turn of the 19th century, flora inspired the creators of the school of Nancy - Emile Gallé, Louis Majorelle – and Jacques Emile Ruhlmann in the middle of the 20's. Since this moment, marquetry decorations benefited from technical progress and innovations, as the Georges Vriz's boring machines and lazer ones.