Gilding is a decorative technique for applying a very thin coating of
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au (from la, aurum) and atomic number 79. This makes it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. It is a bright, slightly orange-yellow, dense, soft, malleable, and ductile m ...
over solid surfaces such as metal (most common), wood,
Porcelain () is a ceramic material made by heating substances, generally including materials such as kaolinite, in a kiln to temperatures between . The strength and translucence of porcelain, relative to other types of pottery, arises mai ...
, or stone. A gilded object is also described as "gilt". Where metal is gilded, the metal below was traditionally
Silver is a chemical element with the symbol Ag (from the Latin ', derived from the Proto-Indo-European ''h₂erǵ'': "shiny" or "white") and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it exhibits the highest electrical c ...
in the West, to make silver-gilt
(or ''vermeil'') objects, but
Ormolu (; from French ''or moulu'', "ground/pounded gold") is the gilding technique of applying finely ground, high-carat gold– mercury amalgam to an object of bronze, and for objects finished in this way. The mercury is driven off in a kiln l ...
is commonly used in China, and also called
Ormolu (; from French ''or moulu'', "ground/pounded gold") is the gilding technique of applying finely ground, high-carat gold– mercury amalgam to an object of bronze, and for objects finished in this way. The mercury is driven off in a kiln ...
if it is Western. Methods of gilding include hand application and gluing, typically of gold leaf
, chemical gilding, and
Electroplating, also known as electrochemical deposition or electrodeposition, is a process for producing a metal coating on a solid substrate through the reduction of cations of that metal by means of a direct electric current. The part to be ...
, the last also called
Gold plating is a method of depositing a thin layer of gold onto the surface of another metal, most often copper or silver (to make silver-gilt), by chemical or electrochemical plating. This article covers plating methods used in the modern ele ...
. Parcel-gilt (partial gilt) objects are only gilded over part of their surfaces. This may mean that all of the inside, and none of the outside, of a
A chalice (from Latin 'mug', borrowed from Ancient Greek () 'cup') or goblet is a footed cup intended to hold a drink. In religious practice, a chalice is often used for drinking during a ceremony or may carry a certain symbolic meaning.
or similar vessel is gilded, or that patterns or images are made up by using a combination of gilt and ungilted areas.
Gilding gives an object a gold appearance at a fraction of the cost of creating a solid gold object. In addition, a solid gold piece would often be too soft or too heavy for practical use. A gilt surface also does not tarnish as silver does.
Origins and spread
Herodotus ( ; grc, , }; BC) was an ancient Greek historian and geographer from the Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire (now Bodrum, Turkey) and a later citizen of Thurii in modern Calabria (Italy). He is known for hav ...
mentions that the Egyptian
s gilded wood and metals, and many such objects have been excavated. Certain Ancient Greek statues of great prestige were chryselephantine
, i.e., made of gold (for the clothing) and
Ivory is a hard, white material from the tusks (traditionally from elephants) and teeth of animals, that consists mainly of dentine, one of the physical structures of teeth and tusks. The chemical structure of the teeth and tusks of mammals i ...
(for the flesh); these however, were constructed with sheets of gold over a timber framework, not gilded. Extensive ornamental gilding was also used in the ceiling coffers of the
In ancient Greek architecture, a propylaea, propylea or propylaia (; Greek: προπύλαια) is a monumental gateway. They are seen as a partition, specifically for separating the secular and religious pieces of a city. The prototypical Gree ...
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23/2479), called Pliny the Elder (), was a Roman author, naturalist and natural philosopher, and naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of the emperor Vespasian. He wrote the encyclopedic ' ...
recorded that the first gilding seen at
, established_title = Founded
, established_date = 753 BC
, founder = King Romulus ( legendary)
, image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Lazio, Italy).svg
, map_caption ...
was after the destruction of
Carthage was the capital city of Ancient Carthage, on the eastern side of the Lake of Tunis in what is now Tunisia. Carthage was one of the most important trading hubs of the Ancient Mediterranean and one of the most affluent cities of the cl ...
, under the censorship of Lucius Mummius
, when the Romans began to gild the ceilings of their temples and palaces, the Capitol
being the first place where this process was used. Gilding became a popular luxury within Rome soon after the introduction of the technique, with gilding soon being seen used on the walls, vaults and inside the houses of anyone who could afford it, including the poor. Owing to the comparative thickness of the gold leaf used in ancient gilding, the traces of it that remain are remarkably brilliant and solid. Fire-gilding of metal goes back at least to the 4th century BC. Mercury
-gilding was invented by Chinese Daoists
in the 4th century CE, and was used for the gilding of
Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12–12.5% tin and often with the addition of other metals (including aluminium, manganese, nickel, or zinc) and sometimes non-metals, such as phosphorus, or metalloids su ...
plaques. It was known to Pliny (33,20,64–5),
Vitruvius (; c. 80–70 BC – after c. 15 BC) was a Roman architect and engineer during the 1st century BC, known for his multi-volume work entitled ''De architectura''. He originated the idea that all buildings should have three attribute ...
(8,8,4) and in the Early Medieval period to Theophilus (De Diversis Artibus Book III).
In Europe, silver-gilt has always been more common than gilt-bronze, but in China the opposite has been the case. The ancient Chinese also developed the gilding of
Porcelain () is a ceramic material made by heating substances, generally including materials such as kaolinite, in a kiln to temperatures between . The strength and translucence of porcelain, relative to other types of pottery, arises mai ...
, which was later taken up by the French and other European potters.
Modern gilding is applied to numerous and diverse surfaces and by various processes. More traditional techniques still form an important part of framemaking
and are sometimes still employed in general
Woodworking is the skill of making items from wood, and includes cabinet making (cabinetry and furniture), wood carving, joinery, carpentry, and woodturning.
Along with stone, clay and animal parts, wood was one of the first materials ...
-work, decorative painting and interior decoration
Bookbinding is the process of physically assembling a book of codex format from an ordered stack of ''signatures'', sheets of paper folded together into sections that are bound, along one edge, with a thick needle and strong thread. Cheaper, b ...
, and ornamental
Leather is a strong, flexible and durable material obtained from the tanning, or chemical treatment, of animal skins and hides to prevent decay. The most common leathers come from cattle, sheep, goats, equine animals, buffalo, pigs and ho ...
work, and in the decoration of
Pottery is the process and the products of forming vessels and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard and durable form. Major types include earthenware, stoneware and po ...
, porcelain, and
Glass is a non-crystalline, often transparent, amorphous solid that has widespread practical, technological, and decorative use in, for example, window panes, tableware, and optics. Glass is most often formed by rapid cooling (quenching) ...
Mechanical gilding includes all the operations in which gold leaf is prepared, and the processes to mechanically attach the gold onto surfaces. The techniques include burnishing
, water gilding and oil-gilding used by wood carvers and gilders; and the gilding operations of the house decorator, sign painter, bookbinder
, the paper stainer and several others.
Polished iron, steel and other metals are gilded mechanically by applying gold leaf to the metallic surface at a temperature just under red-hot, pressing the leaf on with a burnisher, then reheating when additional leaf may be laid on. The process is completed by cold burnishing.
"Overlaying" or folding or hammering on gold foil or gold leaf is the simplest and most ancient method, and is mentioned in
Homer (; grc, Ὅμηρος , ''Hómēros'') (born ) was a Greek poet who is credited as the author of the ''Iliad'' and the ''Odyssey'', two epic poems that are foundational works of ancient Greek literature. Homer is considered one of the ...
The ''Odyssey'' (; grc, Ὀδύσσεια, Odýsseia, ) is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is one of the oldest extant works of literature still widely read by modern audiences. As with the ''Iliad'', t ...
The Old Testament (often abbreviated OT) is the first division of the Christian biblical canon, which is based primarily upon the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, a collection of ancient religious Hebrew writings by the Israelites. The ...
. The '' Ram in a Thicket
'' (2600–2400 BC) from Ur
describes this technique used on wood, with a thin layer of
Asphalt, also known as bitumen (, ), is a sticky, black, highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum. It may be found in natural deposits or may be a refined product, and is classed as a pitch. Before the 20th century, the term ...
underneath to help adhesion.
The next advances involved two simple processes. The first involves gold leaf, which is gold that is hammered or cut into very thin sheets. Gold leaf is often thinner than standard paper today, and when held to the light is semi-transparent. In ancient times it was typically about ten times thicker than today, and perhaps half that in the
In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the late 5th to the late 15th centuries, similar to the post-classical period of global history. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire ...
If gilding on canvas or on wood, the surface was often first coated with
Gesso (; "chalk", from the la, gypsum, from el, γύψος) is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these. It is used in painting as a preparation for any number of substrates suc ...
. "Gesso" is a substance made of finely ground
Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, with the chemical formula . It is widely mined and is used as a fertilizer and as the main constituent in many forms of plaster, blackboard or sidewalk chalk, and drywa ...
or chalk mixed with glue. Once the coating of gesso had been applied, allowed to dry, and smoothed, it was re-wet with a sizing
made of rabbit-skin glue
and water ("water gilding", which allows the surface to be subsequently burnished to a mirror-like finish) or boiled linseed oil
mixed with litharge
("oil gilding", which does not) and the gold leaf was layered on using a gilder's tip
and left to dry before being burnished with a piece of polished
Agate () is a common rock formation, consisting of chalcedony and quartz as its primary components, with a wide variety of colors. Agates are primarily formed within volcanic and metamorphic rocks. The ornamental use of agate was common in Anci ...
. Those gilding on canvas and parchment also sometimes employed stiffly-beaten egg whites ("glair"), gum
, and/or Armenian bole
as sizing, though egg whites and gum both become brittle over time, causing the gold leaf to crack and detach, and so honey was sometimes added to make them more flexible.
Other gilding processes involved using the gold as
A pigment is a colored material that is completely or nearly insoluble in water. In contrast, dyes are typically soluble, at least at some stage in their use. Generally dyes are often organic compounds whereas pigments are often inorganic compou ...
in paint: the artist ground the gold into a fine powder and mixed it with a binder such as gum arabic
. The resulting gold paint, called shell gold
, was applied in the same way as with any paint. Sometimes, after either gold-leafing or gold-painting, the artist would heat the piece enough to melt the gold slightly, ensuring an even coat. These techniques remained the only alternatives for materials like wood, leather, the vellum pages of
An illuminated manuscript is a formally prepared document where the text is often supplemented with flourishes such as borders and miniature illustrations. Often used in the Roman Catholic Church for prayers, liturgical services and psalms, t ...
s, and gilt-edged stock.
Chemical gilding embraces those processes in which the gold is at some stage of chemical combination. These include cold gilding, wet gilding, fire gilding and depletion gilding.
In cold gilding, the gold is obtained in a state of extremely fine division, and applied by mechanical means. Cold gilding on silver is performed by a solution of gold in aqua regia
, applied by dipping a linen rag into the solution, burning it, and rubbing the black and heavy ashes on the silver with the finger or a piece of leather or cork.
Wet gilding is effected by means of a dilute solution of
Gold(III) chloride, traditionally called auric chloride, is a compound of gold and chlorine with the molecular formula . The "III" in the name indicates that the gold has an oxidation state of +3, typical for many gold compounds. Gold(III) ...
in aqua regia with twice its quantity of
In organic chemistry, ethers are a class of compounds that contain an ether group—an oxygen atom connected to two alkyl or aryl groups. They have the general formula , where R and R′ represent the alkyl or aryl groups. Ethers can again b ...
. The liquids are agitated and allowed to rest, to allow the ether to separate and float on the surface of the acid. The whole mixture is then poured into a separating funnel with a small aperture, and allowed to rest for some time, when the acid is run off from below and the gold dissolved in ether separated. The ether will be found to have taken up all the gold from the acid, and may be used for gilding iron or steel, for which purpose the metal is polished with fine emery and spirits of wine
. The ether is then applied with a small brush, and as it evaporates it deposits the gold, which can now be heated and polished. For small delicate figures, a pen or a fine brush may be used for laying on the ether solution. The gold(III) chloride can also be dissolved in water in
Electroless plating, also known as chemical plating or autocatalytic plating, is a class of industrial chemical processes that create metal coatings on various materials by autocatalytic chemical reduction of metal cations in a liquid bath. This ...
wherein the gold is slowly reduced out of solution onto the surface to be gilded. When this technique is used on the second surface of glass and backed with silver, it is known as " Angel gilding
Fire-gilding or wash-gilding is a process by which an amalgam
of gold is applied to metallic surfaces, the mercury
being subsequently volatilized
, leaving a film of gold or an amalgam containing 13 to 16% mercury. In the preparation of the amalgam, the gold must first be reduced to thin plates or grains, which are heated red-hot, and thrown into previously heated mercury, until it begins to smoke. When the mixture is stirred with an iron rod, the gold is totally absorbed. The proportion of mercury to gold is generally six or eight to one. When the amalgam is cold, it is squeezed through
Chamois leather () is a type of porous leather, traditionally the skin of the chamois (''Rupicapra rupicapra''), a type of European mountain goat, but today made almost exclusively from the flesh split of a sheepskin.
The Bri ...
to separate the superfluous mercury; the gold, with about twice its weight of mercury, remains behind, forming a yellowish silvery mass with the consistency of butter.
When the metal to be gilded is wrought or chased, the application of mercury before the amalgam is applied allows for it to be more easily spread. When the surface of the metal is plain, the amalgam can be applied to it directly. When no such preparation is applied, the surface to be gilded is simply bitten and cleaned with
Nitric acid is the inorganic compound with the formula . It is a highly corrosive mineral acid. The compound is colorless, but older samples tend to be yellow cast due to decomposition into oxides of nitrogen. Most commercially available nitr ...
. A deposit of mercury is obtained on a metallic surface by means of quicksilver water, a solution of mercury(II) nitrate
, the nitric acid attacking the metal to which it is applied, and thus leaving a film of free metallic mercury.
After the amalgam is equally spread over the prepared surface of the metal, the mercury is then carefully volatilized
with heat just sufficient to do so, as a temperature too high may cause part of the gold to be driven off, or otherwise run together, leaving some of the metal surface bare.
When the mercury has evaporated, indicated by the surface taking on a dull yellow color, the metal must undergo further steps to exhibit its fine gold color. First, the gilded surface is rubbed with a scratch brush of
Brass is an alloy of copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn), in proportions which can be varied to achieve different mechanical, electrical, and chemical properties. It is a substitutional alloy: atoms of the two constituents may replace each other wi ...
wire, until its surface is smooth. It is then covered with gilding wax, and again exposed to fire until the wax is burnt off. Gilding wax is composed of
Beeswax (''cera alba'') is a natural wax produced by honey bees of the genus ''Apis''. The wax is formed into scales by eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees, which discard it in or at the hive. The hive worke ...
mixed with some of the following substances: red ochre
Verdigris is the common name for blue-green, copper-based pigments that form a patina on copper, bronze, and brass. The technical literature is ambiguous as to its chemical composition. Some sources refer to "neutral verdigris" as copper(II) ac ...
, copper scales,
An alum () is a type of chemical compound, usually a hydrated double sulfate salt of aluminium with the general formula , where is a monovalent cation such as potassium or ammonium. By itself, "alum" often refers to potassium alum, with the ...
Borax is a salt ( ionic compound), a hydrated borate of sodium, with chemical formula often written . It is a colorless crystalline solid, that dissolves in water to make a basic solution. It is commonly available in powder or granular ...
. By this operation the color of the gilding is heightened, as a result of the perfect dissipation of some of the remaining mercury. The gilt surface is then covered over with
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . This alkali metal nitrate salt is also known as Indian saltpetre (large deposits of which were historically mined in India). It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and ni ...
, alum or other salts, ground together, and mixed into a paste
with water or weak
Ammonia is an inorganic compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . A stable binary hydride, and the simplest pnictogen hydride, ammonia is a colourless gas with a distinct pungent smell. Biologically, it is a common nitrogenous ...
. The piece of metal is then exposed to heat, before being quenched
By this method, the color of the gilding is further improved and brought nearer to that of gold, probably by removing any particles of copper that may have been on the gilt surface. This process, when skillfully carried out, produces gilding of great solidity and beauty. This method of gilding metallic objects was formerly widespread, but fell into disuse as the dangers of mercury toxicity
became known. Since fire-gilding requires that the mercury be volatilized to drive off the mercury and leave the gold behind on the surface, it is extremely dangerous. Breathing the fumes generated by this process can quickly result in serious health problems, such as neurological damage
and endocrine disorders
, since inhalation is a very efficient route for mercuric compounds to enter the body; the mercury used in the process also evaporates into the atmosphere, thus polluting it. This process has generally been supplanted by the electroplating of gold over a
Nickel is a chemical element with symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel is a hard and ductile transition metal. Pure nickel is chemically reactive but large pieces are slow to r ... substrate
, which is more economical and less dangerous.
In depletion gilding, a subtractive process discovered in
In the history of the Americas, the pre-Columbian era spans from the original settlement of North and South America in the Upper Paleolithic period through European colonization, which began with Christopher Columbus's voyage of 1492. Usually, t ... Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in southern North America and most of Central America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica. ...
, articles are fabricated by various techniques from an alloy of copper and gold, named tumbaga
Spaniards, or Spanish people, are a Romance ethnic group native to Spain. Within Spain, there are a number of national and regional ethnic identities that reflect the country's complex history, including a number of different languages, both in ...
. The surface is etched with acids, resulting in a surface of porous gold. The porous surface is then burnished
down, resulting in a shiny gold surface. The results fooled the conquistadors
into thinking they had massive quantities of pure gold. The results startled modern
Archaeology or archeology is the scientific study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. The archaeological record consists of artifacts, architecture, biofacts or ecofacts, sites, and cultural landscap ...
, because at first the pieces resemble electroplated articles. is a special
Korean may refer to:
People and culture
* Koreans, ethnic group originating in the Korean Peninsula
* Korean cuisine
* Korean culture
* Korean language
** Korean alphabet, known as Hangul or Chosŏn'gŭl
**Korean dialects and the Jeju language
technique of silver-gilding, using depletion gilding
The gilding of decorative ceramics
has been undertaken for centuries, with the permanence and brightness of gold appealing to designers. Both porcelain and
Earthenware is glazed or unglazed nonvitreous pottery that has normally been fired below . Basic earthenware, often called terracotta, absorbs liquids such as water. However, earthenware can be made impervious to liquids by coating it with a ce ...
are commonly decorated with gold, and in the late 1970s it was reported that 5 tonnes of gold were used annually for the decoration of these products. Some wall
Tiles are usually thin, square or rectangular coverings manufactured from hard-wearing material such as ceramic, stone, metal, baked clay, or even glass. They are generally fixed in place in an array to cover roofs, floors, walls, edges, or o ...
also have gold decoration. Application techniques include spraying
A brush is a common tool with bristles, wire or other filaments. It generally consists of a handle or block to which filaments are affixed in either a parallel or perpendicular orientation, depending on the way the brush is to be gripped duri ...
ing, banding machines, and direct or indirect screen-printing
. After application the decorated ware is fired in a
A kiln is a thermally insulated chamber, a type of oven, that produces temperatures sufficient to complete some process, such as hardening, drying, or chemical changes. Kilns have been used for millennia to turn objects made from clay int ...
to fuse the gold to the glaze
and hence ensure its permanence. The most important factors affecting coating quality are the composition of applied gold, the state of the surface before application, the thickness of the layer and the firing conditions.
A number of different forms and compositions are available to apply gold to ceramic, and these include:
*Acid-etched gilding – developed in 1860s at Mintons
Stoke-on-Trent (often abbreviated to Stoke) is a city and unitary authority area in Staffordshire, England, with an area of . In 2019, the city had an estimated population of 256,375. It is the largest settlement in Staffordshire and is surrou ...
, and patented in 1863. The glazed surface, usually a narrow border, is transfer printed
with a wax-like resist, after which the glaze is etched with dilute
Hydrofluoric acid is a solution of hydrogen fluoride (HF) in water. Solutions of HF are colourless, acidic and highly corrosive. It is used to make most fluorine-containing compounds; examples include the commonly used pharmaceutical antidepres ...
prior to application of the gold, after which the design's raised elements are selectively burnished to give a bright and matte surface; the process demands great skill and is used for the decoration only of ware of the highest class.
*Bright gold or liquid gold is a solution of gold sulphoresinate together with other metal resinates and a bismuth-based flux. It is particularly bright when drawn from the decorating kiln and so needs little further processing. This form of gilding was invented or at least improved by Heinrich Roessler
. Rhodium compounds are used to improve the binding to the substrate.
*Burnish gold or best gold is applied to the ware as a suspension of gold powder in essential oils mixed with lead borosilicate or a bismuth-based flux. This type of gold decoration is dull as taken from the kiln and requires burnishing, usually with agate, to bring out the colour. As the name suggests it is considered the highest quality of gold decoration. One
A solvent (s) (from the Latin '' solvō'', "loosen, untie, solve") is a substance that dissolves a solute, resulting in a solution. A solvent is usually a liquid but can also be a solid, a gas, or a supercritical fluid. Water is a solvent for ...
-free burnish gold composition was reported to consist of 10 to 40% gold powder, 2 to 20%
Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP), also commonly called polyvidone or povidone, is a water-soluble polymer made from the monomer ''N''-vinylpyrrolidone. PVP is available in a range of molecular weights and related viscosities, and can be selected accor ...
, 3 to 30% an aqueous acrylate resin and 5 to 50% water.
["Burnish Gold Decorating Composition." ''UK Pat.Appl.GB2216536 A'', for Heraeus W.C., Gmbh.]
* Embossing (disambiguation)
* French Empire mantel clock
In United States history, the Gilded Age was an era extending roughly from 1877 to 1900, which was sandwiched between the Reconstruction era and the Progressive Era. It was a time of rapid economic growth, especially in the Northern and West ...
* Gilding metal
* Hot stamping
* List of art media
List of artistic media
Arts media is the material and tools used by an artist, composer or designer to create a work of art, for example, "pen and ink" where the pen is the tool and the ink is the material. Here is a list of types of art and the media used within thos ...
List of art movements
:''See Art periods for a chronological list.
This is a list of art movements in alphabetical order. These terms, helpful for curricula or anthologies, evolved over time to group artists who are often loosely related. Some of these movements we ...
* List of most expensive paintings
* List of most expensive sculptures
List of art techniques
A ''list'' is any set of items in a row. List or lists may also refer to:
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* List College, an undergraduate division of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America
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List of sculptors
This is a list of sculptors – notable people known for three-dimensional artistic creations, which may include those who use sound and light. It is incomplete and you can help by expanding it.
* Metal leaf
* Shretha, Sukra Sagar. "Gold Gilding (A Traditional Craft in Kathmandu Valley)." ''Ancient Nepal – Journal of the Department of Archeology'', Number 128–129, February–May 1992, pp. 5–9. detailed account of the complex traditional techniques of fire-gilding in Nepal.
Isaac H. Walker, ''The Process of Gilding and Bronzing Picture Frames'' 1884Society of Gilders
– art and science of gildingThe history of gilding
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