Gilding is said to date as far back as 2600 B.C.  Today, specialised craftsmen or gilding ornementists are dedicated mostly to the restoration on works of art, furniture and decorative architectural artefacts belonging to private individuals, public monuments and national museums.

Time and time again, they keep repeating the same gestures and using the same century-old “recipes” that have not changed much, ever since Cennino Cennini’s Libro dell’arte, in 1437, whether priming, gesso-reshaping, applying the basis itself, overlaying the gold leaf or the finishing stage is involved. Each leaf is one 10,000th of a millimetre in thickness and is gently positioned with a wide brush gilder, made marten hair. Then comes the burnishing stage where the gold is polished with an agate in order to enhance the level of brilliancy desired. In general, cavities remain dull in order to accentuate the shape of ornaments, while patina (made of a mixture of diluted animal glue and watercolour paint) provide the restored sections with the general hue and wear of the rest of the artefact.

According to Laurence Gillery, whose parents were professional gilders and who has been in the business herself for more than 20 years: “The technique itself has evolved but slightly over the years, but all gilders do not work with the same goal in mind. For some, any sort of restoring intervention must remain unnoticeable and melt perfectly with the existing part. Others feel exactly the opposite and want the restoration to show, and for everything to shine!” As a professional specialising also in the restoration of mercury barometers, she firmly believes that “A good gilder must avoid to make himself too conspicuous.”

Article d’Eva Bensard, tiré du Journal de Arts n° 185, 23 janvier au 5 février 2004.
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