Forms of Decoration - Silver and Gold

Towards the end of the seventeenth century a certain amount of furniture was made of which all or most of the surface was covered with embossed sheets of silver. A famous suite of this description, consisting of mirror-frame, candlestands and a table is at Windsor Castle; there is another at Knole, Kent, and yet another was sold by auction in 1928 for no less than 10,100 guineas. At about the same period, in imitation of gold, pieces of furniture were painted with successive thin coatings of a plaster composition called 'gesso' (pronounced 'jesso'), carved in what appear like embossed patterns, and then spread with gold leaf. Later, in the eighteenth century, the gesso was painted on carving and followed the design of the woodwork itself. Tables, and even chairs, were treated with gilding, but the most popular furnishings to be decorated in this manner were mirror-frames. The gold leaf, pure gold beaten into small flat sheets thinner than tissue-paper, was made to stick to the plaster surface by means of a type of gum or by oil-size.The former, which needs greater preparation of the groundwork is called 'water-gilding', and can be highly polished afterwards; the other, 'oil-gilding', is a simpler method and the work cannot be burnished.

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