Marquetry (also spelled as marqueterie) is the art and craft of covering a structural carcass with pieces of veneer forming decorative patterns, designs or pictures. The technique may be applied to case furniture or even seat furniture, to decorative small objects with smooth, veneerable surfaces or to free-standing pictorial panels appreciated in their own right. Parquetry is very similar in technique to marquetry: in parquetry the pieces of veneer are of simple repeating geometric shapes, forming tiling patterns such as would cover a floor (parquet), or forming basketweave or brickwork patterns, trelliswork and the like.
Marquetry (and parquetry too) differs from the more ancient craft of inlay, in which a solid body of one material is cut out to receive sections of another to form the surface pattern. The word derives from a Middle French word meaning "inlaid work".
The veneers used are primarily woods, but may include bone, ivory, turtle-shell (conventionally called "tortoiseshell"), mother-of-pearl, pewter, brass or fine metals. Marquetry using colored straw was a specialty of some European spa resorts from the end of the 18th century. Many exotic woods as well as common European varieties can be employed, from the near-white of boxwood to the near-black of ebony, with veneers that retain stains well, like sycamore, dyed to provide colors not found in nature.
The simplest kind of marquetry uses only two sheets of veneer, which are temporarily glued together and cut with a fine saw, producing two contrasting panels of identical design, (in French called partie and contre-partie, "part" and "counterpart").
Marquetry as a modern craft most commonly uses knife-cut veneers. However, the knife-cutting technique usually requires a lot of time. For that reason, many marquetarians have switched to fret or scroll saw techniques. Other requirements are a pattern of some kind, some brown gummed tape (IE as the moistened glue dries it causes the tape to shrink and so the veneer pieces are pulled closer together), PVA glue and a base-board with balancing veneers on the alternate face to compensate stresses. Finishing the piece will require sand-paper or wire wool, possibly with a sanding block. Either ordinary varnish, special varnishes, modern polyurethane -oil or water based- good waxes and even the technique of french polish are different methods used to seal and finish the piece.
Sand shading is a process used to make a picture appear to be more three-dimensional. A piece of veneer to be incorporated into a picture is partially submerged into hot sand for a few seconds.
Another process is engraving fine lines into a picture and filling them with a mixture of India Ink and Shellac.
The technique of veneered marquetry had its inspiration in 16th century Florence (and at Naples). Marquetry elaborated upon Florentine techniques of inlaying solid marble slabs with designs formed of fitted marbles, jaspers and semi-precious stones. This work, called opere di commessi, has medieval parallels in Central Italian "Cosmati"-work of inlaid marble floors, altars and columns. The technique is known in English as pietra dura, for the "hardstones" used: onyx, jasper, cornelian, lapis lazuli and colored marbles. In Florence, the Chapel of the Medici at San Lorenzo is completely covered in a colored marble facing using this demanding jig-sawn technique.
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