Fine furniture over the centuries has taken on every conceivable form of surface decoration. Painting, gilding, tooled leather, carving, parchment, mirror, shagreen ~ you name it. One form that seems to be linked with every age is marquetry.
Marquetry is the application of veneers to the structure of a piece of furniture. This can be applied to case or seat furniture, or even objects such as boxes and jardiniers. Marquetry involves pictorial designs, parquetry, on the other hand, uses the same technique but with geometric designs that repeat, much like a parquet floor. Such as on the eighteenth century Italian piece on the right.
Both Marquetry and Parquetry are different from inlay work, which may have a similar look, but instead of veneers adhered onto a solid item, the body of the furniture is carved out to receive a piece of wood which is inlaid. The nineteenth century French jardinier below perfectly illustrates the use of bronze, ivory and rare woods to create an elaborate marquetry design.
The visual delight that marquetry provides, and the design versatility is perhaps why the technique has been used from the 17th century to modern times. Rare woods can create beautiful effects, but these materials can be combined with others such as ivory, tortoiseshell, and metals including brass, silver and even gold.
Quality and condition are key when seeking out fine pieces of marquetry. But above all, the design of the work must enhance the overall design of the piece itself.