What is Gilding?

This section deals with the basics of gilding. The menu on the right will give you a broader picture of the history, uses and development of gilding. Gilding as a generic term can be rather misleading, as there are many different methods and styles of gilding, depending on factors such as the surface, location and condition of the item to be gilded, but generally, gilding refers to the application of thinly beaten gold sheets (or other metals) to the surface of an object using an adhesive (size). This can be done in both part (parcel-gilt) and whole (gilt). There are three main disciplines in gilding an item, particularly about gold leaf. These are Oil-Gilding, Water-Gilding and Verre-Eglomise (Glass gilding). Briefly, what are these differences?

Oil Gilding

Oil gilding is the cheaper and easier method of gilding. Although it uses the same tools and gold as water gilding the finish cannot be 'burnished' and is not quite as brilliant a finish. It can be used on almost any surface and requires less skill and know how to produce satisfactory results. One of the main characteristics of gold is its corrosion resistant properties, making it ideal for exterior decoration where it is unharmed by the weather elements. In the case of exterior work however, or where the piece is going to be in contact with moisture, it is mordant or oil gilding needs to be used.


Glass Gilding

Another main method of gilding is that of what is known as verre eglomise, or glass gilding where the gold is placed on the reverse side of glass, allowing its reflective beauty to be fully employed. This is usually found in sign-writing, pieces of art and glassware and can produce some of the most captivating results. Although Gold is the most commonly used metal in gilding, other precious metals such as Platinum, Palladium and Silver can also be used. Lesser metals such as Copper, Bronze and Silver are frequently placed upon surfaces, such as picture frames and then tarnished to create a whole range of pleasing aesthetic effects.


Water Gilding

Most usually, the highest quality of gilding, producing the best finish is water gilding. It is much more labour intensive, requiring many hours of preparation, application of many layers of gesso and bole, sanding, polishing all before the gold is even allowed near the item! All this work, skilfully done, produces the most brilliant shine and purest form of gilding, seen in the capital below. However, due to the nature of materials this is only suitable for items that will remain free from moisture, such as picture frames, mirrors and exquisite furniture. and so is unsuitable for exterior work.