Among the so-called minor arts that flourished in the Italian Renaissance, perhaps the most astounding in its virtuosity was that of intarsia, or wood inlay, in which countless pieces of wood of various species were fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle so as to form exquisite pictures. The masters of intarsia adopted the newly developed technique of linear perspective to depict their characteristic themes, namely, cityscapes viewed through an archway and illusionistic renderings of half-open cabinets filled with liturgical or scholarly equipment. At first these enchanting scenes in wood were found mainly in ecclesiastical settingson choir stalls and altar frontals, and in sacristiesbut by the later Quattrocento they were also used to decorate the studioli, or private studies, of powerful secular patrons. Eventually, in the Cinquecento, intarsists began to push the limits of their medium with figural scenes of ever-greater complexity; this ambitious yet perhaps quixotic attempt to rival the art of painting led to many technical and aesthetic innovations, but also to an abandonment of intarsias natural strengths and its ultimate decline as an independent art.
In this volume, a team of noted Italian art historians trace the evolution of Renaissance intarsia through a discussion of twelve of the most important intarsia cycles. These include the famous studiolo of Federico da Montefeltro in the ducal palace at Urbino; the sacristy of Santa Maria in Organo at Verona, which Vasari described as the most beautiful in all of Italy; and the choir of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, the cartoons for which were prepared by Lorenzo Lotto. Drawing on the latest scholarship and, in some cases, newly discovered documentary evidence, the authors explain the historical context and iconography of these masterpieces, as well as their connections to the painting, sculpture, and architecture of the time. Their insightful essays are illustrated with some two hundred new color images, the result of an extensive photographic campaign carried out exclusively for this work.
Admirably filling in a unique chapter of art history, Renaissance Intarsia will be essential reading for scholars and enthusiasts of art, and a powerful source of inspiration for contemporary artists and craftsmen.
Luca Trevisan, an art historian based in Verona, is the author of several works on the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art of the Veneto. Luca Sassi is an Italian photographer and publisher of art, architecture, and photography books.