In an inlay (from the Italian intarsiare = insert ), is a decorative technique in which on a flat surface different types of wood are placed as in - or to each other, that again a flat surface is created, but now includes different colored and differently structured inclusions. The carrier material undergoes while no plastic molding ( Exception: Reliefintarsie in the 16th century ), as the inlaid wood pieces are flush with the surface. After strict definition - in everyday language but unenforceable - Only inlaid wood, not metal, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl or pietra dura (stone) are called inlays. The latter are among the incrustations, of which ( wood ) inlaid also represent only a subset. If even with ( wood ) inlaid other materials, such as metal nails, glue or varnish may be added, the Holzsichtigkeit of the material is crucial ( cf. Fleming / Honour 1980 entry: Intarsia ).

An inlay in metal surfaces usually with non-ferrous or precious metals is, however, called Tauschierung.


Even the oldest known civilizations known techniques for the decoration of wooden objects. The few remaining findings demonstrate a remarkable skill of the respective artists. Among the oldest known objects are, among an ornate inlaid cedar wood coffin from the Egypt of the 12th dynasty (about 2012-1792 BC). Were also decorated toilet unit, seats and other furniture; were applied here next to glass paste and ivory and exotic woods such as ebony from Ethiopia. The decoration techniques used were as varied as the materials and included in addition to the pure wood ring insert including incrustations and engravings. In the Crimea, for example, engraved and colored painted veneer from the end of the 5th century BC was found. The main feature of all these methods is that in accordance with the ornamental objects having an essentially flat surface. This is not only practical for use, but also gives the objects and a refined, subtle, elegant appearance. Pliny the Elder ( 23-79 AD) writes in the 16th book of his famous natural history so even that the " evidence of the woods ," the time of luxury began.

Islam and Europe

In the Middle Ages the inlay production in Europe probably came to a complete standstill. While inlays were in stone, especially famous are the works of Cosmati, executed in goldsmith work or mosaics on. However, wood remained undecorated or has been exclusively provided with carvings. It took the input from the environment, so that only in Spain, then the inlay arrived in Italy in a unique flower. In other countries, this decorative technique was applied and further developed without interruption, such as the popular in Japan and China technique called Shibayama zaiku be lodged with the mother of pearl, coral, gemstones and ( precious) metal in gelacktes wood or ivory. For Europe, but the embossed area from Islam in this regard should be particularly important. With the conquest of Spain, the Moors brought their art and culture on the Iberian Peninsula, from where it could reach about trading links to other areas. The made ​​in Cordoba seat for a mosque in Morocco today is exactly made ​​in the same technique as the lectern in the Cathedral of Orvieto in Italy and clearly shows this connection. With the appropriate techniques probably also the term was adopted tarsi from the Arabic.

13th to first half of 16th century

The artistic and economic prosperity of the Italian city states of the 13th and the beginning 16th century, which was the term Renaissance entered the history books, encouraged the arts carpentry. Church buildings were built with the most precious materials and decorated with paintings and frescoes - because the furniture should not stand back, of course. Private Client in turn could be magnificent beds, tables and Cassoni (chests ) produce, the price often exceeded the value of a residential building. In order to meet the strong demand, large workshops formed who were transferred from father to son in the rule. Example of this is the workshop of the brothers Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano that provided from Florence to Naples and Hungary. 1474 reported Benedetto Dei, that there should have been in Florence over 80 of these workshops ( legniauoli di tarssie ). One of these botteghe probably also created the famous study for Federico di Montefeltro in Urbino (c. 1474 ). Another center of the inlay production was Siena, whose craftsmen built and the choir stalls in Orvieto. It is documented that already in 1408 an agent of the art-loving Duc de Berry tried to poach an inlay manufacturer to Burgundy but it preferred to stay in Siena. A later contemporary from the same town, Antonio Barili, has shown on a marquetry even at work. It is characteristic of how this proud carves into the panel that he has his work with the knife and not executed with the brush. Later, the centers of the inlays production shifted more and more towards the north, and especially the monasteries of Olivetans presented in painstaking years of work and magnificent choir stalls and sacristy furniture manufactures. Dominican monk Fra Damiano (1490-1559) was visited in Bologna even by the Pope and the Emperor, because they wanted to wrote a contemporary chronicler, in his work to watch him.

16th to 19th century

From Italy, Tyrol and southern Germany the technique of marquetry production spread throughout Europe. Goods craftsmen from Italy has always been active throughout Europe, formed in the countries now own workshops. Especially early on, showed his own work in Bohemia and Hungary, where the King Matthias I. Corvinus masters from Florence had brought to his court. Today you can see in the museums of Budapest marquetry, which the Italian influence still clearly reveal in all independence. In Germany woodworking had indeed itself a longer tradition, but the new suggestions from the south were gratefully received. As centers mainly Nuremberg (Peter Flötner and others) and Augsburg formed ( Lienhart straw Meier and others Lorenz Stöer, ) out; Inlays of this period can be found but also in Cologne and Lübeck. Emphasis is put on the now housed in Münster " Wrangelschrank " of 1566.

France showed in the following years, a particularly independent development. Already at the beginning of the 16th century the office of Marqueteur du Roi was created, which initially took Italian and German masters. The techniques for inlay work, however, were now refined for example, new staining again. In the 17th century tortoiseshell and tin came as an insert material fashionable. As unequaled in this technique is André Charles Boulle (1642-1732), achieve its furniture through a particularly refined combination of metal, tortoiseshell and bronze mounts a unique effect. Other cabinet makers took advantage of the newly available woods such as mahogany, satin or lemon wood, advantage, thus creating variations of inlay, which was called in France " Marque trie " (hence the frequent confusion of terms ). From Neuwied Koblenz came David Roentgen (1743-1807), whose fame also across the world to this time. He made it, after he had acquired in 1780 in Paris of master craftsman to establish himself as an outsider in the sophisticated French market. An exceptional special form was the Reliefintarsie, which was maintained only in Eger (Bohemia ) between about 1625 and 1740. The main champion of the carved in relief inlay Adam Eck, Johann Georg Fischer and Johann Karl and Johann Nicolaus Haberstumpf apply.


In the 20th century began with the "Arts and Crafts " movement, a further flowering of marquetry art. In Alsace discovered Charles Spindler (1865-1938) by, as he said, the possibilities of random inlaid new. Art Nouveau furniture, embellished with inlays, took their place in the great arts and crafts exhibitions and have been designed by leading architects. In modern times, there is a growing circle of interested people, which operate in part the production of inlays as a hobby. The scientific exploration of this artistic medium is still very much in its infancy, however, and the collections and owners of old marquetry start slowly at first, to recognize the historical value of inlays as evidence of an ancient craftsmanship.