The Art Of Gilding: Techniques & Historical Impact

There are many skills which used to be in abundance and are, today, a rare commodity. Gilding is one of them; indeed, there are very few people that can offer gilding as it was done in yesteryear.

However, the truth is, traditionally done gilding is in a class of its own.

What is gilding?

Gilding is best described as gold decoration. It is when a thin layer of gold leaf is added to something to create a unique, stunning, and potentially affluent look. The better the quality of the gold, the more impressive the finished product looks.

That’s why hand-crafted 24k gold leaf for decoration remains so popular.

Gilding, the process of adding gold leaf to something, can be completed on wood, glass, plaster, and a variety of other surfaces. It’s incredibly versatile.

A short history of gilding

Gilding has been completed for centuries. In fact, the ancient Egyptians were considered master gilders. You simply need to look at mummy cases or the furniture belonging to pharaohs, you’ll see they are coated with gold leaf. It’s surprisingly thin yet durable. That shows the skill involved in crafting and adding it.

Throughout history gilding has been used by kings and queens, along with other prominent and wealthy figures. They would coat their homes and monuments with gold leaf, illustrating their wealth and power to the world.

Gilding techniques

Today, machines can be used to create gold leaf. However, it is still agreed that a machine can’t compete with the quality of gold leaf produced by the human hand.

The process is slow. It is necessary to heat a gold bar until it softens enough to be separated into small pieces. Each piece will be heated and hammered repeatedly, the process can be done 10-12 times before the goldbeater has it thin enough that they are satisfied.

Impressively, just one ounce of gold can be turned into a 30-metre square of gold leaf.

It can then be used for a variety of purposes, such as being added to art, becoming part of a piece of jewellery, or even transforming a building.

Impact of gilding

If you have ever visited an old cathedral, castle, or some other ancient monument, you’ll probably have seen the roof or part of the internal structure covered with gold. That is gold leaf and may have taken years to create and finish.

At the time it symbolised wealth and power. Today, the gilded sections of buildings have often survived, helping us to understand the past a little better. Gold is excellent at standing the test of time without discolouring.

Today, gold is still recognized as a precious metal and gilding is still desirable to help create items of beauty. The difference is, most gilded items today are decorative, allowing an individual to show their character.

The bottom line

Manual gilding is still an important skill: think about the effort involved and the centuries of tradition when you next purchase something with gold leaf or look at a historical building.