History of gilding



The art of gilding has been practiced from the earliest dates. Mention of it is made in the Scriptures, and it was known to the Egyptians, who made an extensive use of it in the ornamentation of their burial cases. It became to be generally used amongst the Romans soon after the downfall of Carthage, and was applied very profusely to the decoration of their dwellings and temples. During the middle ages, and when the seats of learning and civilization were located in Italy and among the Moorish Arabs in Spain, the most elaboorate use of it was made in almost every branch of art. It entered largely into architectural decoration, and the cathedrals and mosques were favorite objects for its display.

Among the Chinese, the use of gold leaf as a method of decoration has been practiced since an indefinite period, and its origin with them must be very ancient. Taken altogether, gilding is un art that has been and still is in most general use than any other; and the reason is, that it is almost always appropriate wherever called into requisition. The art of gilding and of bronzing can readily be acquired by anyone who is disposed to devote care and attention to it. It is an art having few, if any, amateurs. Those who practice it are generally those who fallow it as a trade, and, perhaps, far the reason that such persons have but little time to spare from their profession, there is so little written information found an the subject. The cyclopedias are exceedingly deficient in everything like a correct or reliable description of the art. The information which they give is mostly of an eleementary character, and of a kind that is somewhat impracticable and very unavailable.

It was the want of a reliable work on the subject that suggested to me the publication of such a general exposition of the whole matter would prove useful to those what might desire to be informed on it. I do not propose to do more than give a description of the various processes, and to endeavor to make such a description as simple and lucid as possible. It is no part of a gilder’s business to make the frame which he has to gild. Such used to be the case, but now there are factories where the frame is turned out completely made. There are a number of such factories in New York,and the person requiring a frame has only to select the desired pattern and have it made up according to the dimensions of the picture to be framed. Neither do I think it necessary to introduce the subject of preparing those materials which are made expressly for the purpose by regular dealers, and which, of course, will then be found mare reliable than when made by inexperienced hands. There are several respectable dealers in New York who keep for sale almost everything connected with the gilding and bronzing processes.

At a time when every one is more or less interested in the subject of decorative art, and when many are seeking to qualify themselves towards proficiency in some one or other branch of it, perhaps no more apppropriate subject could be offered to the public than that of gilding a picture-frame in all its parts. No fine picture should be without a fine frame, and even with a fine frame an indifferent picture is very much improved; but taste and discernment are both required in the selection of such a frame as either a fine or an indifferent picture may require and, allthough the artist in general is supposed to be the best qualified to determine as to the manner in which his painting should be framed, the frame-maker is really more competent for that duty, and for the best of reasons that it is his specialty. Frames gilded in different colors of gold leaf are frequently seen, and, for some subjects, such frames may do very well; but in general, the deep-colored gold is the most appropriate, and is the better suited to remain in favor with the public.

There can hardly be anything richer than a frame finished in burnished and matted gold of a deep shade of color. Bronze frames, which have recently come so much into vogue, are destined to retain their hold upon the public esteem for a long time. They are a separate style of decoration, one that is very rich, and which admits of great variety in the preparation, and they are particularly appropriate to many subjects, such as water colors and engravings. The art of their preparation is comparatively new to this country, although it has been practiced for a long time in Europe where, perhaps, the best work is yet done. It has hitherto been kept a profound secret by its votaries,and it has been a very difficult proceeding for an amateur to obtain the least insight into it. It is said that some bronzers, when practicing the art, shut themselves apart, in order to prevent their operations being watched. There is really no reason for so much secrecy on the part of those who have become possessed of the information concerning this process, for the process is, in fact, a very simple one. It does not require anything like the manipulation which gilding requires. It is rather more laborious, however, as the amount of burnishing of which it is susceptible is almost unlimited. This, however, is not labor lost, as it serves to enhance the attractiveness of the frame when finished. It is the practice to use different colored bronze powders in combination, and these combinations are very rich in their effect. The silver, copper and verde-antique make rich contrasts.

There is a great field for the exercise of taste in the bronzing process, and those who are adepts in it can command high prices for their work. The only drawback, and it is equally a drawback to many other excellent processes, is, that its popularity has been the means of causing a vast deal of cheap and inferior work to be brought before the public; but work that is really fine will continue to be regarded with favor wherever it may be found.