The Chelmsford Marquetry Group
Marquetry – A Love Affair With Wood
Just what is Marquetry? It is the coverage of the entire, or part of the, surface of a board or piece of furniture with veneer in the form of a skilfully applied design or picture. This is different from inlay, which is the insertion of thin pieces of veneer, ivory, brass, copper, tortoiseshell etc. into a solid base. Both were included under the heading of intarsia over the majority of Europe. The exception was France where they always use the word Marquetry and the craftsmen, Marqueter.
Inlaying or overlaying of wood, metal, ivory or bone is known to have been practised by the Babylonians and Egyptians nearly three thousand years ago and also occasionally by the Greeks and Romans but it was not until the 13th Century that marquetry as we know it became widely used by the Italians. The first to really exploit marquetry were the Olivetans, an order of Dominican monks from a monastery on Mount Oliveta near Siena. Known as the “cloistered intarsiatori”, they went out to decorate churches around Siena, Florence, Bologna and Perugia with biblical scenes, scroll and floral work on choir stalls. One of the most famous was Fra. Diamond de Bergamo who, together with Fra. Giovanni de Verona, worked from about 1450 to 1525. They found they could make the work more realistic by the use of dyes, stains, scorching and bleaching but unfortunately it became such an obsession that they went too far and actually painted pictures to look like wood! Perhaps this was the reason why the use of marquetry faded for a while although it seems that about this time the Italians started to make pictures incorporating the newly discovered (or should it be re-discovered) rules of perspective and three dimensional effect.
Marquetry was revived in a more perfect and artistic form on furniture around the 16th Century when its use spread all over Europe from Holland (where floral designs were popular) to Spain. The period 1642 – 1731 saw the emergence of such world famous artisans as Andre Charles Boule (who will always be remembered for his Boulle or Buhl work), J. F. Deben, J. Henry Reisner and David Roentgen. All were favourites of French royalty and about 1743 Louis XIV of France caused a Marqueters Guild to be formed. He provided free workshops in which apprentices had to work for six years before they were allowed to undergo a strict examination which, when passed, entitled them to become Members of the Guild.
It was in those workshops that the now famous “donkey” for multiple cutting was invented of which copies, in almost its original form, were used in this century by such famous marqueters as George Dunn (whose work can be found in such places as Buckingham Palace). The firm of A. Dunn & Son (Marqueterie) are still successfully trading from Wharf Road, Chelmsford, Essex. UK. One of their most prestigious commissions was the restoration and remaking of the marquetry panelling for the new Orient Express trains.
In Britain, furniture was made from Oak until the first Stuart reign introduced furniture from the continent veneered in Walnut. This Walnut furniture reached its most popular form during the reign of William & Mary and Queen Anne. Master craftsmen like Chippendale veneered in Mahogany; Sheraton and Hepplewhite used Mahogany and Satinwood veneers. In France, the art of decorative veneering reached its heights of perfection in the Louis periods, where the famous Ebenistes used Rosewoods and many fruitwoods in addition to the Ebony, which gave them their name.
Pictures for the tourist trade are still produced at Sorrento and other places in Italy but much of their work is rather crude. About fifty years ago marquetry was revived as a pictorial hobby and The Marquetry Society was formed in 1952. It is through this organisation that it is increasingly accepted as a form of art/craft, which produces not only pictures but clocks, coffee tables, jewellery boxes and articles of light furniture.