Conservation: Gilded Objects (and Frames)

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Like a butterfly wing, a gilded object has an indescribable and delicate beauty.

BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE:
There are many uses of gilding but perhaps the best known is that on frames. Whether intended or not, gilded frames enhance the amount of light given off by candles. And so, gilding was established as a way of profoundly affecting the atmosphere of a room. Gilding can be found on wood, ceramics, glass and silver. Each material requires a different conservation process that should be thoroughly discussed with an expert.

The process of adhering gilt is by blending gold leaf, or gold paint or gold powder with a fixative and securing it to the object. Because of the possible materials used to attach gilt, it is always best to identify the main material and then create the conservation plan.

Gilt may also be placed on through a water-based process or an oil-based process. It is difficult to tell the difference simply by your eye, but if it is water based, it will come off with water. Because of this it is essential to never wipe any gilt with water until its process has be identified.

CARE, HANDLING and STORAGE:
Gilding is extremely fragile. Temperature and humidity can play a part in its destruction, as can simple damage due to poor handling.

  • Cracking is a clear sign of damage and in this case should only be lightly dusted with a soft-bristled dusting brush.
  • When cleaning gilt glass use a chamois leather cloth
  • Moisten it with denatured alcohol
  • Carefully and gently wipe clean
  • Use a clean and dry chamois cloth to buff
  • Gilding on silver should rarely be polished
  • Speak with an expert before taking any action

Always discuss with a conservator and establish a strategy for the best way to care for your gilded objects.

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