Placement Spotlight: National Trust - Investigating Italian Renaissance Intarsia and XVI C Marquetry

From February 2024 till May 2024, I arranged a placement with the curatorial team at the National Trust. The placement was centred around investigating XVI century marquetry and intarsia objects exhibited in various National Trust properties in England. The aim was to identify possible influences between works of Renaissance intarsia and other similar, later techniques, for instance marquetry and inlay. 

The project allowed me to work closely with National Trust curators, conservators, and property managers. I drew upon my prior work on Italian Renaissance intarsia to advise curators about the similarities and differences between Italian Intarsia works and German marquetry cabinets and I have been able to identify some of the sources for the designs on the cabinets. These include prints by the German printmaker Virgil Solis and Italian woodcuts of putto with a skull.

The study has allowed me to link the iconography of the cabinets with Renaissance intarsia works I am studying for my PhD, as both promote contemplation and considerations on life and death.

As part of the project, I visited five National Trust properties with the Curator of Furniture. This allowed me to draw links between similar objects at different properties and to identify parallels between British collectors of the Twentieth century. The country houses I visited included Scotney Castle in Kent, Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire, Wimpole and Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge and Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. We looked at XVI century cabinets which are deeply decorated and ornated to reflect their use as cabinets of curiosities. As part of the visits, I assessed the conservation status and collected data that could provide evidence that would determine their manufacturer. At Scotney Castle we found a date (1583) on a XVI century cabinet which had not been seen before.

I used my research to write new record descriptions of the targeted items. These descriptions have been added to the National Trust catalogue. They will also be developed into fresh written, and in-person spoken resources to use with the public at each individual property.

My time at the National Trust has been an invaluable experience and I have been supported throughout by my supervisor and other staff. It has also helped my research, albeit indirectly, by developing an awareness of the enduring influence of works of Renaissance intarsia on later marquetry items. The placement also provided inspiration for a future career in the Heritage sector, and I am sure it will be indispensable should I decide to follow this path.