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Inlay from the workshop of Fra Giovanni da Verona (around 1499). Verona, S. Maria in Organo, choir stalls

An intarsia (from Italian intarsiare , "insert", from the synonymous Arabic verb noun Arabic ترصيع, DMG tarṣīʿ ) is a decoration technique in which different woods and other materials are placed inside or next to one another on a flat surface in such a way that a flat surface is created that contains inclusions of different colors and structures. If the inlay is more of an ornament , it is called a wooden mosaic .

The carrier material of this inlay does not undergo any plastic shaping (with the exception of the relief inlay in the 16th century), since the inlaid pieces of wood are flush with the surface.


The oldest known high cultures already knew techniques for decorating wooden objects. The few surviving finds show a considerable skill of the respective artist. One of the oldest known objects is a cedar wood coffin decorated with inlaid work from Egypt of the 12th dynasty (around 2012–1792 BC). Toilet equipment, seats and other furniture were also decorated; In addition to glass paste, ivory and foreign woods such as ebony from Ethiopia were used. The decoration techniques used were just as diverse as the materials and, in addition to pure wood inlay, also included incrustations and engravings . In the Crimea , for example, veneer from the end of the 5th century BC was engraved and painted in color. Found. The main feature of all these techniques is that the objects decorated accordingly have a largely flat surface. This is not only practical for use, but also gives the objects a classy, ​​discreetly elegant appearance. Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) even writes in the 16th book of his famous natural history that the time of luxury began with the “covering of wood”.

Islam and Europe

In the Middle Ages , inlay manufacture in Europe probably came to a complete standstill. Inlay work in stone, particularly famous are the works of the cosmats , in goldsmith work or in mosaics were carried on. However, wood remained undecorated or was only provided with carvings. It took external impetus for the inlay to flourish, first in Spain and then in Italy. In other countries this decoration technique had been practiced and further developed without interruption, for example the technique called Shibayama zaiku , popular in Japan and China , in which mother-of-pearl, corals , gemstones and (precious) metal are inserted into lacquered wood or ivory. For Europe, however, the area shaped by Islam should become particularly important in this regard. With the conquest of Spain, the Moors also brought their art and culture with them to the Iberian Peninsula, from where they could reach other areas via trade links. The seat made in Córdoba for a mosque in what is now Morocco is made using exactly the same technique as the lectern in Orvieto Cathedral in Italy and clearly shows this connection. With the appropriate techniques, the term tarṣīʿ was probably adopted from Arabic.

13th to first half of the 16th century

Inlay in the choir stalls of St. Martin in Memmingen, built between 1501 and 1507

The artistic and economic heyday of the Italian city-states from the 13th to the beginning of the 16th century, which found its way into the history books under the term Renaissance , also promoted cabinet making. Private clients had magnificent beds, tables and cassoni (chests) made, the price of which often exceeded the value of a house. In order to be able to satisfy the strong demand, large workshops emerged, which as a rule passed from father to son. An example of this is the workshop of the brothers Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano , which delivered from Florence to Naples and Hungary. In 1474 Benedetto Dei reported that there were over 80 of these workshops (legniauoli di tarssie) in Florence .

One of these Botteghe probably also created the famous study for Federico di Montefeltro in Urbino (around 1474). Another center of marquetry was Siena, whose craftsmen also made the choir stalls in Orvieto. It is documented that as early as 1408 an agent of the art-loving Duke of Berry tried to poach an inlay manufacturer to Burgundy, but the latter preferred to stay in Siena. A later contemporary from the same city, Antonio Barili, depicted himself at work on an inlay. It is characteristic of the way he proudly carved into the board that he carried out his work with a knife and not with a brush.

Later, the centers of inlay production shifted further and further north and the Olivetan monasteries in particular produced magnificent choir stalls and sacristy furniture in laborious and laborious years. The Dominican Fra Damiano (1490–1559) was even visited by the Pope and the Emperor in Bologna because, according to a contemporary chronicler, they wanted to watch him work.

16th to 19th century

Detail of the choir stalls in Heiligenkreuz Abbey

From Italy to Tyrol and southern Germany, the technique of inlay manufacture spread across Europe. Artisans from Italy have always been active throughout Europe, but now their own workshops have been set up in the countries. His own work in Bohemia and Hungary, where King Matthias I Corvinius had brought masters from Florence to his court , became apparent particularly early on . Today you can see inlays in Budapest museums, which, despite their independence, still clearly reveal the Italian influence. Woodworking itself had a long tradition in Germany, but the new suggestions from the south were gratefully received. Nuremberg (Peter Flötner and others) and Augsburg ( Lorenz Stöer , Lienhart Strohmeier and others) emerged as centers; Inlays from this period can also be found in Cologne and Lübeck. Particularly noteworthy is the "Wrangel cabinet" from 1566, which is now in Münster.

In the following period France showed a particularly independent development. At the beginning of the 16th century the office of Marqueteur du Roi was created, which was initially held by Italian and German masters. The techniques for the inlay work have now been refined again, for example through new dyeing methods. In the 17th century, tortoiseshell and pewter came into fashion as inlay materials. André Charles Boulle (1642–1732) is unmatched in this technique, whose furniture achieves a unique effect through a particularly sophisticated combination of metal, tortoiseshell and bronze applications. Other cabinet makers took advantage of the newly available woods such as mahogany , satin or lemon wood, advantage and created as variations of inlay, which in France Marque Trie ( marquetry was called) (hence the frequent confusion of the terms). David Roentgen (1743–1807) came from Neuwied near Koblenz, whose fame also extends to our time. After attaining the master's degree in Paris in 1780, he managed to gain a foothold as an outsider on the highly developed French market. The relief inlay, which was only used in Eger (Bohemia) between approx. 1625 and 1740, was an unusual special form. Adam Eck, Johann Georg Fischer and Johann Karl and Johann Nicolaus Haberstumpf are considered to be the main masters of the inlay carved as a relief.


Bechstein Art Nouveau wing, richly decorated with inlays, 1902

In the 20th century, together with the “ Arts and Crafts movement ”, another flourishing of inlaid art began. In Alsace, Charles Spindler (1865–1938) rediscovered the possibilities of marquetry, as he said, by chance. Art Nouveau furniture, decorated with inlays, found its place in the large arts and crafts exhibitions and was designed by leading architects. Nowadays there is a growing circle of interested people, some of whom only practice the production of inlays as a hobby. Scientific research into this artistic medium, on the other hand, is still in its infancy, and the collections and owners of old inlay work are only slowly beginning to recognize the historical value of inlay as evidence of ancient craftsmanship.


  • Massimo Ferretti: I maestri della prospettiva . (Storia dell'arte italiana; vol. 11). Turin 1982, ISBN 88-06-05464-3 , pp. 459-580.
  • Helmut Flade: Intarsia. European art of pickling from six centuries . Beck, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-406-31578-X .
  • Friedrich Krauss (author), Harald Krauss (arrangement): Intarsia. Origin, manufacture and use . 7th edition. Fachbuchverlag, Leipzig 1983.
  • John Fleming, Hugh Honor: Lexicon of Antiques and Crafts ("Penguin dictionary of decorative arts"). Beck, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-406-30315-3 .
  • Olga Raggio: The Gubbio studiolo and its conservation . Metropolitan Museum, Press, New York 1999.
  1. Olga Raggio: Federico da Montefeltro's palace at Gubbio and its studiolo . ISBN 0-87099-924-9 .
  2. Antoine M. Wilmering: Italian Renaissance intarsia and the conservation of the Gubbio studiolo . ISBN 0-87099-925-7 .
  • Thomas Rohark: marquetry. Development of an image medium in the Italian Renaissance . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-525-47908-7 (reconstruction of the arts; 9).
  • Jochen Voigt: For the art chambers of Europe. Relief inlay from Eger . Edition Stekovics, Halle 1999, ISBN 3-932863-33-X (catalog of the exhibition of the same name from March 19 to July 18, 1999 at the Museum für Kunsthandwerk Leipzig).

Web links

Commons : Intarsia  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Inlay  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Italian edition: John Fleming, Hugh Honor: Dizionario delle arti minori e decorative . Milan 1980.