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Department of Mineral Sciences

Dragonfly Box by Nicolai Medvedev
Medvedev intarsia boxes. Photo by Harold and Erica Van Pelt.
Medvedev intarsia boxes. Photo by Harold and Erica Van Pelt.

Intarsia is a term that is used to describe both stone and wood inlay, where pieces of similar thickness are cut and shaped to fit closely together without spaces or gaps, forming a pictorial or geometric design. Marquetry is the term most commonly used to describe this technique in woodworking. The Latin term, pietre dure, is essentially stone marquetry, which first appeared in Rome in the 16th century and reached maturity in Florence. The stones are loosely assembled and then each one is glued in place to a base, typically of marble, obsidian, onyx, jade, granite, quartz, or even ceramic. Today, this art of stone inlay is called intarsia. Intarsia is different from mosaics and micromosaics, where small pieces, or tesserae, of glass, stone, shell, or bone are set into a mortar with grout in between the pieces, and oftentimes the pieces are the same size and shape. This is quite different from intarsia, where the pieces are different shapes, sizes, and material; no grout or mortar is used; and the cutting must be exact so that there are no spaces or gaps between the stones.

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