Gilding – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Techniques and Materials Glossary

What is Gilding?

Gilding is a decorative technique that involves applying a thin layer of gold, silver, or other metal to a surface to create a luxurious and ornate finish. This process has been used for centuries to embellish everything from furniture and picture frames to architectural elements and religious artifacts. Gilding can add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any object, making it a popular choice for artists, craftsmen, and designers.

History of Gilding

The art of gilding dates back to ancient times, with evidence of gilded objects found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2500 BCE. The Egyptians used a technique called “water gilding,” which involved applying a thin layer of gold leaf to a surface using a mixture of water, honey, and egg whites. This method was later adopted by the Greeks and Romans, who used gilding to decorate statues, jewelry, and architectural elements.

During the Middle Ages, gilding became a popular technique in Europe, particularly in the production of illuminated manuscripts and religious artifacts. The Renaissance saw a resurgence of interest in gilding, with artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo using gold leaf to embellish their paintings and sculptures.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, gilding reached new heights of popularity, with elaborate gilded furniture, mirrors, and picture frames becoming fashionable among the wealthy elite. Today, gilding continues to be a popular decorative technique, with artists and craftsmen using a variety of methods to achieve stunning gilded finishes.

Types of Gilding Techniques

There are several different techniques used in gilding, each offering its own unique advantages and challenges. Some of the most common types of gilding techniques include:

1. Water Gilding: This traditional technique involves applying gold leaf to a surface using a mixture of water, honey, and egg whites. Water gilding produces a smooth and lustrous finish, but it requires a skilled hand and careful attention to detail.

2. Oil Gilding: In oil gilding, gold leaf is applied to a surface using an adhesive oil-based size. This technique is faster and easier than water gilding, but it can be more prone to cracking and peeling over time.

3. Reverse Gilding: Reverse gilding involves applying gold leaf to the back of a piece of glass or acrylic, creating a mirrored effect when viewed from the front. This technique is often used in the production of signs, plaques, and decorative objects.

4. Burnishing: Burnishing is a technique used to smooth and polish the surface of gilded objects, creating a shiny and reflective finish. Burnishing can be done using a variety of tools, including agate stones, burnishing irons, and brushes.

Materials Needed for Gilding

To gild an object, you will need a few basic materials, including:

1. Gold Leaf: Gold leaf is a thin sheet of gold that is used to create the gilded finish. Gold leaf comes in a variety of colors and karats, ranging from 12 karat to 24 karat.

2. Adhesive Size: Adhesive size is used to adhere the gold leaf to the surface of the object. Sizes come in a variety of formulations, including water-based, oil-based, and acrylic-based options.

3. Gilding Brushes: Gilding brushes are used to apply the gold leaf to the surface of the object. These brushes are typically made of soft, natural hair and come in a variety of sizes.

4. Burnishing Tools: Burnishing tools are used to smooth and polish the surface of the gilded object, creating a shiny and reflective finish. Burnishing tools can include agate stones, burnishing irons, and brushes.

Application Process of Gilding

The process of gilding can be complex and time-consuming, but with practice and patience, you can achieve stunning results. Here is a basic overview of the gilding process:

1. Prepare the Surface: Before applying the gold leaf, make sure the surface of the object is clean, smooth, and free of any dust or debris. If necessary, sand and prime the surface to ensure a smooth and even finish.

2. Apply the Adhesive Size: Using a gilding brush, apply a thin, even layer of adhesive size to the surface of the object. Allow the size to dry until it becomes tacky to the touch.

3. Apply the Gold Leaf: Carefully place a sheet of gold leaf onto the tacky surface, using a gilding brush to gently press the leaf into place. Continue applying additional sheets of gold leaf until the entire surface is covered.

4. Burnish the Surface: Once the gold leaf is in place, use a burnishing tool to smooth and polish the surface of the gilded object, creating a shiny and reflective finish.

5. Seal the Surface: To protect the gilded finish from tarnishing and wear, apply a clear coat of varnish or sealer to the surface of the object. Allow the sealer to dry completely before handling or displaying the gilded object.

Care and Maintenance of Gilded Artwork

To ensure the longevity and beauty of your gilded artwork, it is important to properly care for and maintain the gilded finish. Here are a few tips for caring for gilded artwork:

1. Dust Regularly: To prevent dust and debris from accumulating on the surface of the gilded object, dust it regularly using a soft, dry cloth or a feather duster.

2. Avoid Harsh Chemicals: When cleaning gilded artwork, avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that can damage the gilded finish. Instead, use a mild soap and water solution or a specialized gilding cleaner.

3. Handle with Care: When handling gilded artwork, be gentle and careful to avoid scratching or damaging the gilded finish. Use clean, dry hands or cotton gloves to prevent oils and dirt from transferring to the surface.

4. Protect from Sunlight: To prevent the gilded finish from fading or discoloring, avoid displaying gilded artwork in direct sunlight or near heat sources. Instead, place the artwork in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight.

By following these tips and techniques, you can create and maintain stunning gilded artwork that will stand the test of time and bring beauty and elegance to any space. Whether you are a seasoned gilder or a beginner, gilding is a versatile and rewarding art form that can add a touch of luxury and sophistication to any object.