The eye of the collector by Jean-luc Ferrand


Friday 18 December 2015, by Barbara Cogollos

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

I- History

The history of marquetry is marked by four huge periods, which by their economic, political, cultural or religious contexts allow the application and the developpement of this art.
- In the Antique period, Asia minor is the home the most important of woodworkers whose used the wooden inlay. As for example woodworks of the king Mausole Palace at Halicarnasse, 350 years before Jesus-Christ.
- Following the activity became fashionnable again in Toscane, Florentins will diversify the processes. The italian Renaissance become a decisive period for the developpement of the marquetry in Europe.
- The cabinetwork and the marquetry introduce definitively in France in the early XVIIth century with the arrivals of flemish and dutchman craftmen whose worked in the royal workshops of Louvre and of Gobelins.
- During the XVIIIth century, the new creative spirit of german will introduce the prestige of french marquetry furniture. This prestige achieve its peak under Louis XVI.

There will be a periodic revival of the french furniture with styles of Charles X and Louis-Philippe, from 1825 to 1848, those of years "Art Deco". The most beautiful works will present during Great Internationals exhibitions. Its figure today in museums or furnish palace.

II- Techniques

Obviously backs with the scissors at the XVIIIth century

During the old marquetry restauration, we find under the veneer traces of drawings, or pencils or tools mark on massive parts of furniture. The veneer were cut following the line with a saw, then fixed temporarily by veneer points. The tool which serves to dig veneer is constituted of one steel tapered blade, fixed at the end of a wooden handle. In the middle of the XVIIIth century, the use of this technique will spread step by step cause of the shapes evolution. Inlayed areas surface of furniture becoming plane, he was much more easier to cut back with the saw.

Obviously with easel for shapely veneer backsfonds

At the XIXth century, the primitive technique of scissors digging disappear. The cabinetmakers whose made a large reproductions of style Louis XV, preferred apply marquetries already finished on the shapely structure, it means that with the backs already inlayed by motifs. The whole was put on the structure with a heavy glue and clutched with help of a sand bag to fit the shape of furniture. To obtain a marquetry fitting perfectly the shape the surface, woodworkers invented the following proceed : the veneer is first maintain temporarily on the structure with help of some points, then the decoration is double by a kraft paper with heavy glue. After drying and thouger of the bone glue, the veneer is detached from the structure, conserving the furniture’s shape, the back is gutted on a marquetry easel.

III- Styles

Tarsia geometrica

At the XIVth century, It is in Toscane that the marquetry became fashionnable again. This marquetries present generally with geometrical shape. The contrast gave by colors and the disposition of vein from différent woods "of the region". The middle of the XVth century is an epoch very important in the developpement of inlayed decoration. Wealthy houses possessed small work cabinets decorated with inlayed woodworks in "trompe-l’œil" representing false libraries disposed on the periphery of the room.

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Studiolo de Gubbio
Marqueterie en tarsia geometrica tout autour de la pièce

Tarsia a incastro

It is the name that we gave at the proceed used by the colony of inlay craftmen whose worked in the south of Germany, towards 1620. It is a simple methode which consist of superimpose two contrasted veneers, then to fix it between them on the periphery to form an only package. We cut veneers simultaneously following the lines of a pattern on the superior part of the package. Once that cutting done, the woodworker separate the two veneers and he inlays the clear parts in the dark back and inversely. In this way, he obtains two identical patterns.

The Boulle furniture

Under Louis XIV, the most woodworkers used proceeds of sawing by superimposation. Theirs works had an universal reputation, in particular those of André-Charles Boulle. When we appoint a "Boulle furniture", it means that he covered by a inlay composition in tortoise shell and brass, which can also enrich with ornaments in horn, in tin or in copper. Only works which "attributed" to André-Charles Boulle can be considered as from the workshop of the cabinetmaker of king Louis XIV. The ohters designations "in the way of Boulle", "in the style of Boulle" appoint furniture which can be very looking like his creations, but also all those of a lower quality which were make by others cabinetmakers in workshop of faubourg Saint-Antoine.

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Armoire d’André-Charles Boulle
Placage d’ébène et d’écaille, marqueterie de laiton, étain, corne et bois de couleurs et bronze doré

IV- Materials

Contrasted compositions necessitate the preparation of different materials : woods, metals and animal substances. All these veneers must be of a thickness approximatively equal.


It represents a small part in the recovery of his works. The most employed are the Mozambique rosewood, Madagascar Ebony, the blackened pearwood, the Amaranth, and the Asia rosewood. We find also the use of the lacustre oak which is a wood which stayed at least one couple of decades of years in a moist soil and which became totally black, but he kept all its quality and its surface aspect of the normal oak. The wood tint by chlorosphenium is used because of few mushrooms provoques modifications in the color of wood. It is the case of chlorosphenium, which grow up in spring and mostly in the autumn. Indeed the mycelium, it means the vegetable parts develop crossing the wood that he tints in green-blue, taht give him an interest for a use in marquetry.

Metals :

Before to cut the metal plate, it’s important to riffle on the back of the boards to encourage his application on the structure with animal glue. The choice of brass is done in function of its aspect which is determinated by its alloy. Its high copper and zinc content make vary the color and the metal’s reflect. We can also find pieces in cast tin directly in the marquetry.

The tortoise shell:

Its employement begin in the early XVIIth century in Flanders and in the south of Germany. These substances provide by shells of three sea turtles. On all these turtles, five median tortoise shells are very curved, it is necessary to smooth out it. These one on the side are of small dimensions, but can be employed after being slit. Its superior part is brown like the shells, while the plastron is dirty white, rosé or yellowish. After scrapping and polishing, these latter become transparent. When they are integrated in the marquetry, we double a colored paper, stick on the back of the board. The same principle is used for the horn.


As the tortoise shell, it is a reglemented substance. The most beautiful of these materials come from few teeth of big animals like thewalrus or the hippopotamus, but the ivory the most current emanate to elephant’s tusk. These latter product a substance of good quality. To debit the ivory in veneer, the tusks which can achieve 2,50 m are first cutting in several parts and each one is sawing in the way of the lenght.


The most employed in the marquetry is the beef one. After to have removed the point which is the solid part, the cone’s trunk is heating on a flame then open with help of a billhook and then put flat in a press. Treaty by a uniform color, dark blue and sometimes turquoise, the horn was sawed in suerimpose with brass to do the marquetry entirely the writting desks or the cartels. It has particularly used in furnishing mostly at the end of the XVIIth century to recover drawigs or paintings which were sticked on the structure of furniture.

We call painting in wood, the marquetery composed with natural or tinted wooden veneers. Dominated by subjects in clear holly, boxwood, maple and also the violet, red of the Amaranth veneers. The green foliage, the contrast is accentuated by the ebony or tortoise shell back. These compositions of wood are also called: marquetry with four colors.

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Cabinet d’apparat de la fin du XVIIème siècle, attribué à Pierre Gole
Les montants sont recouverts en étain et étain sur fond d’ébène. Marqueterie en peinture en bois.
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Miroir de toilette en marqueterie de cuivre, écailles de tortue, ébène et bronze doré

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