Intarsia – The art of Italian Inlaid Wood

Music boxes made of Inlaid Wood (Intarsia)
Music boxes made of Inlaid Wood (Intarsia)

Sorrento is famed for it’s inlaid wood craft-work, a craft known as Intarsia. These products can be found worldwide, you may have spotted them in stately homes that have an Italian influence, in which the family of the time may have travelled far and wide to choose the exquisite furnishings for their home. These objects of beauty are often priceless and if put up for auction would fetch many thousands…

The early days…

The history of Intarsia dates back as far as the 15th and 16th Centuries, although it may have been inspired by a much earlier form of the craft which used ivory instead of wood. It is unclear where exactly in Italy the craft originated but history strongly suggests that it’s origins are rooted in Sicily. In the 17th Century it made it’s way into the Flemish countries and eventually into London. Since then it has spread around the world. However it is still very much a thriving industry in the Campania region of Italy, providing employment for local craft-workers and a good economy for the area. People visit from all over the World in order to buy some of the finest furniture that money can buy.

The actual methods used over the years have changed as tools have become more advanced but the basic principle remains the same.

A cabinet made of inlaid wood
A cabinet made of inlaid wood

How it’s made…

A design is created using a number of finely cut pieces of wood taken from different species of tree. The individual sheets of wood will vary in colour dependent on which tree they come from and in some cases are individually treated to change their colour using natural techniques. The result of this first stage is to create a palette of colours to work with that suit the design in hand.

The layers are then pressed together and a stencil for the overall outline of the design is drawn on the upper layer which is then cut-out using a jigsaw. The pieces are then individually cut into small pieces, layer by layer to reveal different colours and elements of the picture, sanded down to produce a fine finish and then pieced together in Jigsaw fashion. The pieces are glued to a piece of wood as the picture is assembled and a finish is then applied to complete the work.

Where you can find it…

If you take a walk around the streets of Sorrento, you will see a dizzying array of Intarsia products such as picture frames of local scenes to hang on your wall, chess boards, grandfather clocks, exquisite tables, address book holders, dressing tables, cabinets and even a map of the world (the detail on this globe was astounding and so was it’s price tag). If you venture into many of the churches or hotels, their rooms are adorned with inlaid wood. It is beautiful and intricate, a testament to Italian art and passion for great craft.

If you are planning a visit to Sorrento and are interested in Intarsia by all means just meander around the town admiring the craft-work but you will soon realise that some of these products are very expensive, especially the closer you are to Piazza Tasso where some of the finest examples can be seen (such as the globe mentioned above). We however discovered a great place to visit that is not publicised enough and we found it purely by chance when we saw a little sign saying “Notturno Intarsia” with an arrow pointing out of town.

Notturno Intarsio – The Factory Showroom

Notturno is a factory showroom where a lot of the items are made prior to being distributed around Sorrento and much further afield. It is tucked away along one of the backstreets but is not actually that far from Piazza Tasso as you may think, yet very few people seem to know of it’s existence. You can save as much as 50% on a purchase from the showroom, which is a significant saving. The showroom holds a massive range of products from music boxes (pictured) to beautiful Grandfather Clocks. The staff there are very helpful and offer a range of services including shipping to wherever you live in the World.

Notturno are located along Via Fuorimura, if you ever go there, tell them about this website and that we directed you there!

Their website isΒ

11 thoughts on “Intarsia – The art of Italian Inlaid Wood

Add yours

  1. This is nice to read about, and a new word for my vocabulary – ‘intarsio’.

    I tried to look up the etymology of the word, but couldn’t find anything.

    Do you know what the word comes from, because it doesn’t seem to have any connection with the word for ‘wood’ ?


  2. That is a great question David and I do have an answer for you. I think an “Intarsio” is a person(s) who specialises in the craft of “Intarsia”. That is what I think, I may not be right. If anyone knows, please let me know.

    The word intarsia is thought to have been derived from the latin “interserere” which means quite simply – “to insert”.


  3. You are right on with the description of the availability of quality intarsia in Sorrento. My spouse and I were there a year ago, found Notturno also and purchased and had shipped several pieces. Good people to deal with, items were well packed and arrived safely. Table is still gorgeous, pictures have been hanging for a year and still look new.


    1. Hi Clifton. That sounds wonderful, how far away do you live? We will one day buy a large piece of furniture from there, we have eyed up a few over the past 3 trips we’ve made there. We love the place, the area, the people, the everything.


  4. Hi Nick. We live in the USA, in Georgia. I don’t think you can go wrong with the purchase unless of course you were to get a defective piece. Shipping took about 4-5 weeks from the time we placed our order. Best wishes!


  5. I visited the showroom mentioned. My high school tour group had just arrived in Sorrento, and we were offered a ride up the hill to our hotel in small busses, with the condition that we first visited the showroom. We agreed, and everyone was dreading because it was very late and we wanted to go to bed. Then we got into the building and were say down for a presentation and demonstration. After that we entered the showroom. Nobody was dreading it anymore. I bought an amazing blue music box with a floral pattern on top. The colour was so beautiful I couldn’t leave without it. The price was definitely reasonable considering the quality. 90 euros approximately if I’m remembering correctly. I love it.


    1. Hi Brittany – Wow, thanks for reminding me of this old post and a great experience that I had there also. My desk pen holder thingy that I purchased there still sits on my desk. Strangely something reminded me of this the other day, so it is funny that you commented on it. We may be going back there this year. How spooky is that?!


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