A Brief History of Gilding

Gold Leaf is gold that has been hammered into thin sheets without being broken, either by hand or now more common pneumatic hammer. Metal leaf in the early days was thoroughly beaten until it was paper thin.  This process was called gold beating. In the early days This was very expensive to produce, and the cost of the process meant it was only intended for important religious and cultural works.

Gilding can be traced back to Egyptians as far back as 3000 B.C. Egyptians used gold leaf to adorn wood and metal, such as tombs and coffins, as well as other objects. Tomb paintings in Egypt depict people beating gold into thin sheets of foil, used in the decoration of objects, and artwork. Historical references of gilding appeared in China by the fourth century B.C. and gilded vessels of Tibet in the seventh century AD.  There were also various gilding techniques and applications that emerged throughout South America, Peru, Spain, the Far East, Britain and Europe. 

In Europe around 400AD, gold and silver leaf were used by religions to create amazing illuminated manuscripts.  These works included artistic decorations, such as initials and borders.  In addition to the manuscripts, gold and silver leaf was used in paintings of this time.

This gilding artistic trend reached its peak around the 1300’s and leafing in the art scene was fairly quiet until the 1800’s.  The 1800’s saw art leafing arrive at a turning point and it underwent a new and fashionable period in the world of modern painting. 

Towards the end of the 19th century imitation leaf was invented.  It is thought by some that a flourishing middle class during the industrial period drove demand for cheaper work.  Imitation leaf to this day is made up of various alloys and emulates real leaf very well at 100th of the price.  

With the invention and popularity of imitation leaf, in addition to the astounding varieties available, there is nothing holding any artist back from using this fantastic medium to give their work a unique look.