'Paintings in Wood'- Marquetry and Parquetry
Towards the end of the Seventeenth Century the highly skilled art of veneering rose in popularity in British furniture-making. An expensive and technical skill, veneering is when thin sheets of wood are glued onto a carcase of wood in order to create striking decorative surfaces. These veneers can be made in a variety of materials including walnut, ivory, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, and other exotic woods such as ebony, rosewood and satinwood. For information on how to identify these woods please take a look at our blog.
Marquetry and parquetry are two types of intricate veneer inlay which are commonly found in antique English furniture from c.1660 onwards. Marquetry is veneer inlay that creates decorative figural patterns often in the shapes of flowers, leaves and natural scenery. Parquetry is a veneer inlay composed of geometrical shapes of diamonds, squares or triangles that creates a non-figural pattern. Parquetry also tends to have a 3-dimensional effect thanks to the use of differently coloured and grained veneers.
In this late Nineteenth Century parquetry veneered antique étagère, geometrical pieces of contrasting burr walnut, tulipwood and rosewood have been used to provide a visually interesting surface decoration.
Here we also have a very elegant and delicate French Regency parquetry rosewood veneered commode which compliments the serpentine front and is typical of the more sophisticated and less frivolous French regency style.
The Eighteenth Century writer Savary des Brulons described marquetry as 'paintings in wood'; such a description does seem apt when we consider the impressive marquetry inlad antique chests from the William and Mary period. Here we have a c.1695 heavily inlaid antique chest which is decorated with delightful marquetry of tulips, chrysanthemums, acanthus leaves and exotic birds with marquetry panels of tulips along the sides. This fashion for floral marquetry originated from Dutch and French furntiure and was embedded into the English tradition after the Edicte de Nantes in 1685 when French Huguenot craftsmen immigrated into England bringing such skills with them.
Here we also have another rare William and Mary oyster veneered and marquetry inlaid antique chest of drawers. Crossbanded in olivewood with a panel of floral marquetry surrounding a parrot this is a luxurious and flamboyant piece of furntiure.
Most importantly, all of these items of English antique furntiure still retain much of their original detailed shading and colour. It is important when looking for a marquetry or parquetry piece of antique furntiure to recognise that some areas of the veneer inlay will have worn away or lost their original colour and therefore must be restored and replaced. Overall, both marquetry and parquetry added beauty and vitality to a piece of furntiure and have created high quality luxury antiques which are highly valued in the antiques market today.