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Sorrento Marquetry: Wood Craftsmen’s Art

Local Wood Craftsmen in Sorrento Are Famous Worldwide Because They Produce Wonderful Handicraft, also known as Sorrento Marquetry.

Sorrento’s marquetry (Tarsia Sorrentina or Tarsia di Sorrento) is an ancient art. Local craftsmen have always engaged in this particular woodworking. This kind of work is as meticulous as complex. The result? High-quality objects and pieces of furniture.  But what are the origins of tarsia sorrentina and the techniques used to produce such kind of art?

History of Tarsia di Sorrento 

Tarsia Sorrentina’s first appearance in history dates back to a period between the sixth and seventh centuries. At the time, people could find this art in Benedictine monasteries.

Later, we find examples of tarsia in the Reinassance and during the 19th century, when Tarsia gained its momentum. Indeed, Tarsia spread beyond national boundaries.

Why did the 19th century saw the tarsia sorrentina flourish? 

Because this was the period of the Gran Tour, when artists from all over the world visited Italy.

The Gulf of Sorrento was one of artists’ favorite destinations. Their presence not only raised the demand for handicrafts but also influenced and inspired local artisans. Tarsia Lignea Sorrentina became a very appreciated and well-known artistic tradition all over Europe. 

What are the characteristics of Sorrento Marquetry?

As its name suggests, Sorrento Marquetry was born as a kind of inlay. This art aims to produce images (i.e. landscapes, portraits, still-life, etc.) from wafer-thin pieces of wood, whose color and consistency differ. Craftsmen alternate these pieces of wood and foils of other materials, as ivory or nacre, over which they put metals or semiprecious stones.

Despite European cities entered in a strong competition with Tarsia Sorrentina, just like the city of Nice, Tarsia always distinguished itself because of two of its characteristics:

  • Techniques selection;
  • Choice of materials;

Indeed, the art of Tarsia di Sorrento requires the commitment of more than one professional figure. This is because local craftsmen rely on very rigorous techniques.
First and foremost, transformers model the pieces of wood, as in a patchwork, and they start to put them together to make drawings.  Then, a “ricacciatore” (an artist specialized in “editing” the drawings, ed.)  perfect the drawing. Then, a trimmer paints the handicraft, using some spray paint.