Panel from the Rathaus, Breslau, 1563
The word "intarsia" is derived from the Latin "interserere," to insert, according to the best Italian authorities, though Scherer says there was a similar word, "Tausia," which was applied to the inlaying of gold and silver in some other metal, an art practised in Damascus, and thence called damascening; and that at first the two words meant the same thing, but after a time one was applied to work in wood and the other to metal work. In the "Museo Borbonico," xii., p. 4, xv., p. 6, the word "Tausia" is said to be of Arabic origin, and there is no doubt that the art is Oriental. It perhaps reached Europe either by way of Sicily or through the Spanish Moors. "Marquetry," on the other hand, is a word of much later origin, and comes from the French "marqueter," to spot, to mark; it seems, therefore, accurate to apply the former term to those inlays of wood in which a space is first sunk in the solid to be afterwards filled with a piece[Pg 2] of wood (or sometimes some other material) cut to fit it, and to use the latter for the more modern practice of cutting several sheets of differently-coloured thin wood placed together to the same design, so that by one cutting eight or ten copies of different colours may be produced which will fit into each other, and only require subsequent arranging and glueing, as well as for the more artistic effects of the marquetry of the 17th and 18th centuries, which were produced with similar veneers.(....)
In Germany there can be little doubt that the art first struck root in the southern part of the country, the towns which produced the earliest furniture and other objects decorated in this manner being Augsburg and Nuremberg. The first names of workers recorded, however, are those of the two brothers Elfen, monks of S. Michael at Hildesheim, who made altars, pulpits, mass-desks, and other church furniture for their monastery, ornamented with inlays, at the beginning of the 16th century, and Hans Stengel, of Nuremberg, but none of the inlaid work of either has come down to us. Two earlier pieces are figured by Hefner Alteneck, the harp already referred to on p. 8, and a folding seat of brown wood inlaid with ivory, stained yellow or light green, and black or dark brown wood, in oriental patterns, both of the latter part of the 14th or beginning of the 15th century. Two other names are mentioned as capable craftsmen in Nuremberg, Wolf Weiskopf and Sebald Beck; the latter died in 1546.[Pg 85] The Augsburg work was much sought after, the "so-called mosaic work of coloured woods." The designs for the panels were generally made by painters, architectural and perspective subjects being most common, but flower pieces, views of towns, and historical compositions were also made.
Panel from Church of S. Mary Magdalene, Breslau.
Panel from S. Elizabeth's Church, Breslau
A German work thus characterises the later 16th century productions of this type—"A certain kind of intarsia becomes common in the German panelling and architectural woodwork; also in cabinets, vases, and arabesques, with tasteless ruins and architectural subjects with arabesque growths clinging all over them, of which examples may be seen in the museums at Vienna and Berlin, where one may also see works in ebony with engraved ivory inlays, which are generally more satisfactory. In German work, however, inlay was never of so much importance as carving, and the Baroque influence almost immediately affected the character of the design for the worse."
From the book Intarsia and Marquetry. Author: F. Hamilton Jackson. London, 1903