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Intarsia Decorative Techniques

Intarsia is a special wood work technique that involves cutting wooden pieces and sticking them together on a surface to form images. This is a kind of inlay technique almost similar to marquetry. The difference between marquetry and intarsia is that the intarsia work gives the image an illusion of depth to give it an almost three dimensional appearance.

This technique is said to have originated somewhere in the North African Arab territories as early as the 7th century. The Egyptians created extremely picturesque mosaic works using wood veneers of various species of wood. It was termed as ‘Parquetry’. This exotic art found its way to the Byzantine art and sculpture. The art occupied a prominent place throughout the golden era of the Byzantine art.

The art entered the European aesthetic world through Sicily and Andalusia. The monks used a new tool called ‘shoulder knife’, which enabled them to cut depressions in wood and fill them with wooden veneers cut in different shapes to form different images with an illusion of depth. They used natural colors and grains of different wood and stuck the pieces with glue to form perfect images. They used veneers of a thickness of 3mm.

The word ‘intarsia’ is thought to have originated from the Latin word ‘interserere’, which means insert. During the 16th century another newer and more convenient tool called ‘fret saw’ was introduced. This was an extremely thin saw which enabled the artisans to produce more precisely crafted art pieces. 

In the 18th century saw mills which could cut several 3mm. thick veneers simultaneously came into existence. This made it possible to mass produce intarsia work. This inspired the artists and wood workers to use intarsia in household and public décor to great extends. Furniture, wood paneled walls and floor boards were all crafted using intarsia.


In this art natural colors and grains of different wood are exploited artistically. At the same time, in some cases wood pieces dyed in appropriate colors are also used. The artist draws the image on a background and decides upon the shades of colors to be used. Thereafter small pieces of wood are cut and shaped separately. These pieces are finally assembled to form the images.

This is an extremely complicated and time consuming work. It also calls for a high degree of imagination and expertise. All the same, the resulting product is incredibly perfect and beautiful.

This decorative technique was used to decorate ancient churches and cathedrals. Later, wood was replaced by marble and granite. The marble and granite intarsia were immensely suited to floor decorations. At present metals and glass also are used in intarsia works to create exquisite art pieces.

Hardwood medallions

The decorative hardwood floors were in trend on and off in the history of mankind. It is considered to be highly prestigious and trendy at present. The artists are able to produce amazingly intricate patterns using intarsia techniques. Flooring medallions are another in-thing now. The small units or tiles are produced individually to lay the floor. Similarly hardwood floor corners and floor boarders are also used, to give the floor an elegant look.

The hard wood floors can be used in foyers, lounges and entrances. If you decide to use a hardwood intarsia floor under your sitting room sofas or dining spaces, it will undoubtedly be style statements. Besides the floor, the walls also can be decorated using intarsia. The wood tapestries lend a room an unrivalled sophistication. The modern interior decoration systems use intarsia to great advantages.


by Marina Chernyak



Marina Chernyak
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