As an ancient art, gilding has survived through time and continued to be relevant today.

Thanks to gold leaf, you can add a pop of detail to any object, which no other type of finish can accomplish. This is probably why the art of gilding survived even after a thousand years. Today, many artists mix a blend of gilding art with the traditional painting technique.

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The art of gilding is an interesting process worth learning about.

Gilding isn’t just an ordinary endeavour; it takes precision to master the craft, along with an enormous amount of patience and dexterity. There is something awe-inspiring about bathing an object in golden elegance. It is truly fascinating even until today.

In this article, we discussed the history and art of gilding.

The Art of Gilding defined

You can create beautiful pieces through the art of gilding.

In layman’s term, the art of gilding is about decorating parts or the entire body of metal, wood, plaster, glass or other objects with a layer of gold. You can gild an object by applying gold leaf to a recently applied thin layer of adhesive on an item’s surface. Gilding also involves the application of silver leaf, aluminium leaf, palladium leaf, or copper leaf.

Where did gilding start?

This ancient gold leaf art started thousands of years ago by the Egyptians. They believed that gold was the colour of the gods, pharaohs, and sarcophagi. In fact, the main decor in the rooms of the pharaohs’ tombs was gold leaf.

While Egyptians were considered as master gilders, the Chinese also have ornamented wood, pottery and textiles beautifully designed in gold. On the other hand, the Greeks also gilded masonry, marble sculpture, wood and also fire-gilded metal.

Meanwhile, the Romans acquired this art from Greeks who used to adorn their palaces and temples with brilliant gilding.

Why is gilding considered an art

Magnificent gold pieces throughout time have been created through the art of gilding.

The ability to transform an ordinary object into a brilliant work of art, using very thin sheets of gold, requires precision and skill.

The process is very delicate and needs training because one mistake can completely blow the whole gold leaf or silver leaf away—along with the precious dollars you invested in them. Once the object is covered in layers of gold leaf, the finished product becomes stable and resistant to tarnish and deterioration, as long as the base remains stable.

If the surface is unstable, it is much easier to remove the gold by rubbing a slightly moist cloth on the unsealed gilded surface. That is why sealing off your gilded product is recommended, so it won’t deteriorate easily.

What are the two gilding techniques in gold leafing?

The ancient art of gilding has never lost its charm even among modern artists.

While not everything that glitters is gold, you can still achieve the next best thing, thanks to the art of gilding. Currently, there are two kinds of gilding techniques used today: oil gilding and water gilding.

Oil gilding

Oil gilding involves the application of gold leaf to a slow drying linseed oil and turpentine mixture called size. The slower your size dries up, the shinier is your finished product. This technique is considered more durable than water gilding; however, it cannot be burnished or shined to a high brilliance.

Water gilding

The water gliding, on the other hand, is very different. The leaf is floated over a thin layer of rabbit hide glue. This glue allows the gold leaf to spread out smoothly because it is so thin.

Both of these types use very thin 22-carat gold leaves or gilding metal alloy. You can sometimes see their difference, especially when you look at a gilded item like a picture frame. The part that looks a bit duller is the oil gilding, while the polished shiny is the water gilded part.

Artists often combine these two techniques to make the object pop.

Can you gild any object?

Traditionally, gold leaf is used on mirror frames, picture frames, art objects, architectural ornaments, art objects and furniture of all shapes and types. With the right technique, you can basically gild anything your heart desires.

Put no limit to your imagination and easily complete your gilding projects for that magnificent glow that is not found in any other type of finish.


There is a reason why the ancient Egyptians believed that gold is the colour of the gods. It’s because of the timeless quality of gold that can make any ordinary object into an instant masterpiece.
With the right technique and gilding supplies, a common household item can look expensive when they are bathed in golden elegance.

Add sparkle to our everyday items, gold leaf crafts, sculpture or frame with the art of gold gilding. Make your art come alive by gilding in either a gold leaf, silver leaf or copper leaf.
When it comes to gilding, the possibilities are endless.

FAQ for ‘The History and Art of Gilding’

There are many questions that people have surrounding the art of gilding. These questions about the history of gold leaf often stem from an understanding of the impact that gold leaf gilding techniques have on our society in the modern day. In this post, we’ll delve into the many ways that people have historically used pure gold. 

Let’s begin!

Who Invented Gold Leaf?

Gold leaf history does not accredit gold leaf with being invented by any particular person. What we do know is that ancient Egyptians used gold leaf in a way similar to the way we use it today. These sheets were pounded to their desired thickness and then applied to various figures, statues, paintings, wood, domes, surfaces, and more. Furthermore, by the surfacing of the Byzantine empire, we know that illuminated manuscripts became popular, using real gold as a source of eye-catching gleam for onlookers.

How Was Gold Leaf Made in Ancient Times?

Much like today, gold leaf used in ancient times for a gilded surface was pounded thin before it was applied. The pounding of gold was achieved by using hammers, stones, and copper. Gold leaf during those times could be as thin as 1 micron, while today’s gold leaf can be as thin as .01 micron by mechanical means.

How Common Was Edible Gold Leaf Historically Speaking?

When it comes to edible gold leaf history, the truth is that people have been eating gold for ages. People in ancient times could be found not only using gold leaf on carved wood, the bare parts of statues, and on pottery but even food. There is evidence that exists that attributes eating gold to the Chinese, Egyptians, and those alive during the Middle Ages. These discoveries seem to date back as far as 2000 B.C.
Besides Chinese and Egyptian culture, those living in ancient Greece and Japan are also known to commonly decorate food, and this is true even today.

To What Objects Were Gold Leaf Applied in Former Times?

While gold leaf is most commonly applied to picture frames, furniture, and paintings today, people of old used to decorate chryselephantine statues of ivory and gold leaf for use in temples. Besides this, other metal leaves, such as silver leaf, would also be used to decorate a statue, sculpture, portrait, painting, and other items.
Statues that welded weapons would normally have gold leaf applied to their arsenal, along with highlights for hair, arms, and other features. Even during ancient times, gold leaf, whether hammered or in powdered form, was used.

How Is Gold Leaf Most Commonly Used Today?

While it may be interesting to see and learn about ancient gold leafing techniques at your local gold leaf museum, you may also be curious as to how these thin pounded metal sheets are used today. Gilding surfaces for outdoor hardware, statues, picture frames, furniture, carved wood, and more are most common these days. Artists also use gold leaf to express their style over canvas art or to add a pop of color when revamping items for interior decoration.

Gold Leaf History: Interesting Yet Still Relevant

All in all, gold leaf and powder history is just as relevant as it is interesting. The process of gold leafing may look a little different with modern advancements, but the intended outcomes are much the same. Using hammered metal sheets, delicate gold leaf was used to create metal covered surfaces and to gild a variety of items from statues to manuscripts. Today, gold leaf is used for much the same purposes and also for decorating items like photo frames, furniture, and even food.

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