Inlay – the mesmerizing art of unique ornaments

Eusebio Zuloaga, chest
Eusebio Zuloaga, chest

Inlay is a technique of decorating the surfaces of objects or objects with inserts from various materials. Inlay is considered to be one of the oldest types of arts and crafts. An important distinctive feature of this technique is that the artist creates a flat, rather than a convex image or ornament in the process of work.

Inlay allows you to turn the most common household items into vibrant and valuable masterpieces of art. Wealthy people are happy to buy such things to emphasize their status and individuality in the eyes of others.

Mosaic table
Mosaic table

Types of inlay

Inlay combines a large number of varieties of decoration techniques, which are classified:

  • Type of material used (wood, veneer, glass, artificial and natural stone, metals and their alloys, ivory, ceramics, mother of pearl, straw).
  • By type of base (on wood, stone, metal).
  • The method of fixing the decor (gluing, firing, mechanical fixation).
  • By scope (for decorating furniture, decor and household items, musical instruments, building facades, walls, floors and ceilings).

The most common types of inlay have their own unique names. These include: mosaic; intarsia; marquetry; damaskage; mobile or niello.

Painting Flowers marquetry (intarsia).
Painting Flowers marquetry (intarsia).


Mosaic is the most famous of the types of incrustation, the essence of which is the cladding of various surfaces with small pieces of hard materials. This ancient technique is widely used in the construction of walls and ceilings today.

Since ancient times, masters of different civilizations have not only decorated small objects with the help of mosaics, but also created monumental works of art – panels. Mosaic walls, ceilings and floors can often be found in the decoration of magnificent religious temples and palaces of rulers in all corners of the earth.

Damascus - an ancient technique of jewelry finishing
Damascus – an ancient technique of jewelry finishing


Intarsia is fundamentally different from mosaics in the way of laying decorative elements. They are not fixed on a flat surface, but placed in specially prepared recesses. In most cases, in appearance it is almost impossible to distinguish between intarsion and mosaic decor.

Intarsia is ideal for connecting materials of different physical properties (for example, stone or metal with wood). Placing trim elements in recesses significantly increases the strength of the faced surface of an object or object. This technique is widely used in the manufacture of luxury furniture, sarcophagi and caskets. Much less often it is used when decorating the walls of buildings.

Dagestan (dish)

The essence of the ancient art of marquetry is to cover the surface of a product with thin strips of veneer of different colors. This technique usually uses valuable types of wood: boxwood, sycamore, ebony.

With the use of marquetry, European artists have long made cabinet and upholstered furniture, as well as skillful paintings. In most cases, at the end of the work, the lined surface is covered with several layers of varnish to increase the strength and durability of the object.

Benvenuto Cellini

Damascene Damascene is the technique of inserting thin pieces of silver or gold into the recesses of objects made of steel. Traditionally, it is used to create elite cold weapons and firearms, as well as tableware and jewelry.

The unique art of damasking has been widespread since ancient times in Japan, Malaysia and Spain. The gorgeous ornaments made of precious metals against the backdrop of dark oxidized steel look very beautiful and are highly prized by antique collectors.

André-Charles Boulle

Niello The technique of blackening for silver and other non-ferrous metals differs significantly from the above types of inlay. It is based on the principle of firing the engraved surface of items in a kiln, on which the artist applies a thin layer of a powdery mixture of copper, lead and silver sulfides.

Under the influence of high temperature, the powder melts, fills the depressions and is firmly sintered with the metal base of the object to be decorated. Using this technology, inlay artists most often make jewelry, paintings, tableware (bowls, plates and trays).

Alexander Sayenko encrustator
History of inlay

The fascinating history of inlay is more than 6 thousand years old. The oldest specimens of inlaid artifacts found by archaeologists were created by unknown masters of the Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian civilizations. Already in the IV millennium BC, the practice of mosaic decoration of the walls of buildings was widespread in these regions.

In the second millennium BC. The Egyptians mastered the technique of niello inlay, which they shared with their neighbors in the Middle East. The ancient Greeks were the first to learn how to make durable sea pebble mosaic floors. In the Roman Empire, brick and concrete buildings were faced by craftsmen with marble plates, and inlaid furniture for the nobility was made using the marquetry technique. However, the art of veneering was then lost for a long time and revived only at the end of the 15th century in Italy.

Byzantine monumental architectural monuments cannot be imagined today without unique mosaics made of colored smalt (pieces of opaque glass), which are at least 600 years old.

The technique of damascening was invented by the Chinese back in the 5th century BC. From there, this art spread throughout Asia, and with the beginning of the era of Arab conquests, it penetrated into Europe, into the territory of Spain. Here, for many centuries, Islamic masters passed on carefully hidden secrets to their students, and after the completion of the Reconquista, the damaskinage was adopted by Christian artists.

Interest in incrustation has never faded, despite the emergence of new types of art in different historical eras. And today, talented artists in many countries of the world work tirelessly to create unique decorated masterpieces.


The most famous encrustors

The names of the most famous encrustors are well known not only to antique collectors, but also to many ordinary people. A huge contribution to the development of various techniques was made by such masters as:

  1. Benvenuto Cellini is a famous Italian jeweler of the Renaissance. When making jewelry from gold and precious stones, the master very often used the technique of inlay. To our great regret, most of Cellini’s works are irretrievably lost for posterity.
  2. André Charles Boulle is a brilliant French artist. His contemporaries called him a furniture jeweler for the sophistication of his work, and today, works of art created in the Boulle style are rightfully considered the pinnacle of intarsia technique.
  3. Eusebio Zuloaga is a Spanish gunsmith, the founder of modern European damaskage. Zuloaga specialized in the creation of a unique inlaid weapon – the arquebus, and his three sons became famous artists in the field of painting, ceramics and metal products.
  4. Alexander Sayenko is a Ukrainian master of decorating objects with an unusual material – straw. With his work, he proved to the whole world that a person is able to create unique masterpieces of everyday life, furniture and even monumental artistic images from ordinary straw.