Jabrayil Guliyev: Wood craft intarsia is addicting and intriguing

Baku, April 12, AZERTAC

Intarsia - the centuries-old woodworking craft, is one of the most beautiful and creative ways of combining art and woodworking. The very means of design and creating an artwork, deciding what wood to use throughout the process, cutting, gluing, and finishing the piece is truly a time-consuming pains-taking effort, but when final touches are done, the results are outstanding.

Guivami Rahimli, PhD, Professor at Baku State University, has shared some highlights with AZERTAC about the lost Intarsia wood craft and Jabrayil Guliyev, the artist who is reviving this art.

The word "intarsia" is derived from the Latin "interserere," to insert, though there was a similar word, "Tausia," which was applied to the inlaying of gold and silver into another metal, an art practice from in Damascus. These two words meant the same thing, but after some time, one was applied to work in wood and the other to metal. The word "Tausia" is of Arabic origin, and there is no doubt that the art is Oriental.

The Intarsia technique arrived in the cathedrals of Europe via Andalusia and Sicily from the mosques and minarets of North Africa, where, due to the prohibition on graven images, it was useful in creating complex calligraphic patterns and tessellations. More than mere ornamentation, the intricate tiling served as a unifying design element, as much a part of the architecture as a pillar or “qubba” - dome. One can still feel transported before lonely door panels and “minbars” - pulpits, as one marvels at the way these features summon the ineffable through sacred geometry from the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia to the Alhambra in Spain around 836.

From the beginning, Intarsia has served as a projection of imperial singularity and superiority.

For example, Emperor Charles V had his motto inlaid on one of the flaps of an impressive writing cabinet built for him in around 1532 - a reification of his “invincible” reign and Spain’s success in the New World. His "Plus Oultra Cabinet", featuring Intarsia panels, walnut inlaid with various woods, now displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, has been called “an expression of the universal Christian empire of Charles V.” The work was so beautifully done that Charles thought it couldn’t possibly be made of pieces of wood, but it rather had been painted. To satisfy his curiosity, he chopped out a bit of the panel with his sword, assuring that as a matter of fact, the work was composed of wood pieces.

The technique of Intarsia - the fitting together of pieces of intricately cut wood to make often complex images - has produced the most awe-inspiring pieces of Renaissance craftsmanship.

Through this masterpiece in Victoria and Albert Museum, you can trace not only the Intarsia journey in Europe, but also its path from the religious sphere to the secular, as a magnificent item.

Intarsia made its journey to Azerbaijan as well, the land where the east meets the west. It is such a fantastic art, a wonderful form of woodworking that adds a third dimension to simple scroll sawing.

As an artist, Jabrayil Guliyev has immense passion for Intarsia craftmanship. Although he trained in traditional fine art painting and sculpture at Azimzade Art College and Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Arts, today he is the only Intarsia artist in Azerbaijan.

Using the Intarsia technique means delicately hand crafting, by layering various natural woods to create a three-dimensional image. The wood's color is determined by the type of tree, and which part of the tree the piece was cut from. Each individual piece of the art piece has been chosen specifically for colour, texture, and direction of grain, and then realistically shaped to complete the bigger picture. It turns into a stunning piece of work that brings visual interest to just about any wall. Wood and art elegantly fuse to bring the unique piece that will create a profound impact just as it is.

“When I decide what I want to make, I start going through my wood piles until I find all the colors I want to use. Then I plane the wood of multiple shapes and thicknesses. When I have all the wood ready, I start laying out the design, matching the woods’ grain direction like puzzle with the way the design goes,” says Jabrayil.

“While working your enthusiasm grows as you feel you are totally connected with nature, and it awakens your interest and you’re anxious to try another piece of design.”

“My greatest joy as an intarsia artist is to see how much time people take viewing my finished design,” Jabrayil asserts. “It’s really special when my artwork has a positive impact on their lives.”

Jabrayil’s creations feature unique designs and inspirational stories. His works are praising his homeland, its people, and the environment he has grown in.


In "Refugees" you can observe the consequences of war as hardship imposed on people. Times when circumstances are tougher than a person. Time when the dusty road heated by the sun can become a salvation for children, adults, and animals.

Jabrayil’s paintings are completely organic and ecological because natural wood is used to create the artwork. The wood chips that he uses, are from rare trees in Azerbaijan, Russia, Canada, Asia, and Africa.

Jabrayil’s Intarsia works are so intricate that, they are hard to distinguish from painting. It was not by chance that at the international symposium in Lithuania’s bohemian republic Užupis, one of the oldest districts and Mecca of light-hearted behaviour in the capital Vilnius, where Jabrayil’s works were displayed, the organizers asked him to make special presentations on his works, as they drew so great attention of the audience. And he did it two times, highlighting Intarsia technique, the inspirational stories, and unique designs.

A sign welcoming to the Republic of Užupis

Kudos to Jabrayil Guliyev for being credited with bringing Intarsia wood artwork back from the past Renaissance craftsmanship.

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