THE TIMELESS CHARM OF GILDING
“All of the frames in the Annibale Esposti collection are hand-finished.
Some are lacquered, other are painted, still others are treated with the artisanal technique of gilding, passed down through centuries of tradition.”
Gilding is an ornamental decorating process used on different materials and with different techniques to enhance the value of an object by applying a very thin layer of gold.
The roots of this technique go back to Byzantine and Renaissance art and architecture, in which the gold leaf was applied to paintings on wooden planks, to enhance the visual effect of the halos of the saint or the gleaming of sunbeams. Gold’s resistance to corrosion has allowed these planks to endure up until our time without losing any of their splendor.
There are different methods employed to achieve gilding. The most ancient technique, which guarantees the most precious results but at the same time requires great experience and abilities is gouache gilding.
This technique, though difficult for the delicacy of the process, is extremely fascinating. It requires different phases and it can take many days to see the finished work, but the result definitely makes the patience worthwhile.
Practically speaking, in gouache gilding, the gold is applied to the plank as the first layer, and only later does the actual painting occur.
Three Phases in Gouache Gilding
There are essentially three phases in gouache gilding
1. PREPARATION OF THE BASE
which will receive the gold.
This first step must be very precise, because on its precision depends the success of the entire work.
After smoothing the wood of the frame with sandpaper, a layer of primer made with rabbit-skin glue is applied to the clean, dry and spotless wood; the next step is “ammanitura”, the coating with liquid gesso.
Once the surface is dry, any possible imperfections are eliminated by passing over them a large grain abrasive paper. This manual operation must be repeated several times.
After removing the excess gesso with a scraper from the parts of the frame, very fine glass wool is passed over the surface to make it perfectly smooth and suited to receive the gold leaf.
2. PREPARATION OF THE BOLE
(A glue-like mixture that in turn will be applied to the gold leaf).
The bole is dissolved in water and applied to the surface with a brush.
The drying time varies according to the environment’s humidity and to the different seasons of the year.
3. LEAF APPLICATION
After preparing the fish glue with a bain-marie technique, it is spread out onto the bole, wet with glue. Then the gold leaf is applied, laid out with a knife, very delicately and without touching it with fingers, because it is extremely fragile.
Burnishing with agate stone
Mission gilding is a simpler technique compared to gouache gilding, and it allows the application of the gold leaf onto any non porous surface (gesso, wood, metal, glass, plastic, etc.)
The technique basically consists in spreading an adhesive liquid (called mission) onto the object to gild and then apply the gold leaf.
In gouache gilding, before spreading the fish glue to apply the leaf, bole (red, yellow or black) is applied. In mission gilding, the bole can be substituted with acrylic paint that mimics the tone of real bole.
Mission gilding can be burnished, but it cannot be rendered antique-looking.
Silver can also be made into very thin leaves and used to decorate adequately prepped surfaces.
However, since it is less pliable than gold, the silver leaf is much thicker. Furthermore, silver tends to become dark when exposed to the atmosphere, through a process of oxidation, so its surface must be protected with a layer of clear varnish, which is usually shellac.
Glazing and antiquing
Glazing a surface consists in making the gilding appear more antique, by applying a layer of a solution made with mineral spirit and wax stained with colored soils.
The mixture is spread out with a brush and when it is completely dry it is polished with a woolen cloth.