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Making of the Magnificent Sorrento Inlaid Music Boxes

Sorrento is a small town located in the picturesque Bay of Naples in Italy. Bay of Naples is one of the most popular tourist destinations. Sorrento has a hand in making Bay of Naples famous. The Limoncello and the inlaid music boxes are the two things that instrumental in putting Sorrento on the tourist maps.

Limoncello is a digestive made from lemon rinds and the inlaid music boxes of Sorrento are trinket boxes that produce automatic music when they are opened. But the music boxes earned their place in the list of the much sought-after gift articles by virtue of the han
dmade inlays on them. These inlaid designs range from simple floral designs to elaborate scenic designs. The colorful designs will attract you if you are an aesthetically tempered person. But they will hold you in awe when you know that the fabulous colors are not painted but made piece by piece by the artisan using wood veneers of different colors, without changing their nature-given colors.

Inlay or intarsia is an ancient artistic wood art technique that originated in Sorrento in the 15th century. Thereafter, generation after generation of wood craftsmen acquired the art from their ancestors. The result is that still the inlays in Sorrento are done using the same old technique.

Inlaying involves a laborious and long process. It needs a high level of imagination and aesthetics. This is an art of extreme precision. It begins w ith the artist drawing the design with great precision. Then the picture is cut into various pieces, according to their required color scheme. These pieces are then cut from wood veneers of the required colors. The cutting has to be done with extreme exactitude so that, when they are assembled, they should merge as the parts of a whole without any hitch.

The music boxes are made beforehand. The
artist then plans for the inlay. He cuts out a niche for the design. The previously cut veneers are then assembled inside this niche. If a piece needs shading, it is done by placing it in a hot sand bath for a few seconds, depending on the required color of the shade. It goes without saying that the cutting out of the niche and the various components of the design in the veneer should be exact. That is why this is an expert’s art.

The pieces of veneer are arranged according to the plan and glued into the niche. Then the whole thing is leveled, honed and polished using a special lacquer. This art is passed from generation to generation and now the artists of the present generation add aspects of their own to the art. Still, the basic technique remains the same.


The woods that are used are exotic verities like burled elm, rosewood, maple and the like. All these woods have characteristic colors and grain burls that are used by the artisan to his own advantage. The skill of the artist in utilizing the natural designs and colors of the wood in his design decides the quality of his inlay. The worth of a design depends on the artist’s choice of woods, intricacies and precision of handwork and the finishing refinements.

The importance of the antique Sorrento traditional wood craft and handcraft make these inlaid musical boxes an excellent gift article and very venerated collectable.

by Marina Chernyak

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Marina Chernyak
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