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What is an inlay?

An inlay is the art of decorating an object by setting pieces of another material into its surface. Inlays have been applied to a wide variety of objects, from furniture and objects of art to the ceiling, walls, and floor of a room. Among the many materials used for inlaying are wood, stone, metal, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, ivory, and glass. Popular kinds of inlaying include damascening, the insertion of gold or silver wire into iron or steel; mosaic, the embedding of colored glass, marble, or stone pieces into plaster pietra dura, the application Rf precious stones in relief and intarsia, the inlaying of different colored woods ivory, or pearl into furniture and wood objects.

Perhaps the outstanding examples of early inlay work are the mosaics in Byzantine churches of the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. During the medieval period, pieces of colored glass were inlaid into the windows of churches and cathedrals. In 17th-century and 18th-century France the cabinetmakers Andre Charles Boulle and Jean Henri Riesener achieved exquisite marquetry inlays of wood with brass, tortoiseshell, and ivory ornamentation. In modern times the term "inlay" is usually applied to the decoration of furniture.

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