What is gold Leafing

What is Gold Leafing / Gold Leaf Gilding


Many people ask this question, What is Gold Leafing? Gold Leafing or Gold Gilding refers to special techniques for applying 100% pure or artificial Gold leaves (also known as warak) to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, glass, metal etc. to give a thin coating of Gold and add shimmer and elegance to the object. Since the birth of metallurgy, Gold Foil is used for Gold leaf gilding. Thanks to the exceptional ductility of gold and, indeed, its high decorative and symbolic power.

It is the best technique used for decorative purposes to cover the surface of the art objects with a thin layer of gold or its alloys with silver and copper. It is such a multitude of crafts, tools and traditions, that the sum of them literally constitutes a highly skilled art. This art has organically evolved and handed over from many generations in a traditional manner.

Artistic Gold Leafing Service
Artistic Gold Leafing Service

History of Gold Leafing

Art of Gold Leafing / Gold Gilding in one form or another has been known to the world for over 4000 years. It is found in the tombs of Egypt, and on the excavated bronze vessels in China, on the copper domes of churches in Russia, on the lovely and intricate religious books of Ireland, on the panels of icons and the walls of paintings. A stone vase found in south Egypt dating from the Nagada period is kept in the Louvre museum. Its handles are decorated with thick gold foils mechanically fastened.
Art of Gold Leafing / Gold Gilding made its entry in India through Mughal Kings. It got accepted and improvised by other kings, so much as almost all palaces in India has Gold Leafing in some form or other.

City Palace in Jaipur, Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad or Padmanabhapuram Palace n Kanyakumari district are living testimonies of this heritage Art. People started developing their skill of Art and Craft involving the precious metal, to gain name-fame-rewards and recognition and to be in the good books of ruler.

Metals used for leafing

The first and most stable material for creating precious objects or gilded surfaces was gold. Since ancient times, gold is privileged for its properties: golden shine and glitter, resistance to corrosion and rarity. Gold is the most electronegative transitional element, therefore ‘noble’. Its face-centered cubic crystal structure makes it soft and ductile, which together with its chemical stability, led to the use of gold as leaf to cover various objects. Although gold is durable, it is also very soft and, therefore, can be beaten out to form thin leaves used for decorative purposes on different materials and objects.
From ages, Gold has symbolic value related to power, authority, wealth, prosperity, happiness. It would not be wrong to terms "Gold as Timeless", Gold adds shimmer and resplendence to any object. Gold is valued for its natural beauty and because it can be fashioned into most intricate and satisfying shapes. It can preserve it’s shining, colour and luster for centuries.

Alternative to Gold

As alternative to Gold, craftsmen tried to find other metals or alloys that could imitate the shine and color of the Gold surfaces e.g. Silver, Copper etc. reducing, in this way, the cost of manufacture. Metal Leaf also known as schlagmetal or composition leaf, is a thin foil used for decoration. It comes in many shades. Some of the Metal leaf may look like Gold leaf but does not contain any real gold, hence called imitation leaf. 

Leafing Techniques

Term Leafing / Gilding covers a number of technique used for applying fine Gold or Silver leaves to solid surfaces.

Water or Chemical Gilding / Leafing

“Water Gilding” requires many stages like careful preparation of a gesso made of slaked plaster, gypsum or chalk, gluing process, a certain fine dark reddish clay called “bole”, burnishing, then the careful laying of the Gold leaf with water, often overlapping the edges of the Gold, then burnishing the Gold in a certain direction with an agate burnishing tool, carefully removing or cleaning the excessive Gold remains and lastly plastic coating.

Fire Gilding / Leafing

Fire Gilding, was apparently invented in China, and was used there on bronze objects. This technique passed gradually in a southern and western direction, and became quite universal, in each country being used for differing purposes. Buddhist statues of Bronze, often very old, bear traces of fire gilding. The Copper domes of Orthodox churches in Russia have been gilded that way. Italian and French works of Silversmiths bear areas of gilding, precisely conforming to the designs of figures  or other portions, and are termed parcel-gilt.

Fire Gilding is the only method which helps a metal object to appear to be completely made of Gold.  It utilizes an amalgam of Gold with Mercury, which is applied to the work and then heated to a great temperature with a furnace or torches. The Gold portion then forms a true amalgam with the Silver, Copper, Iron or Bronze. The vapour of the Mercury emerges into the air leaving the layer of Gold on the applied metals. It is then covered with a continuous layer of Gold.

Apart from this, Burnishing, Liquid Gold, Acid-etched gilding etc. are also used for gilding. Now-a-days, there are other ways being used to get Gold effects onto art and craft works.  It includes Golden paint, imitation Gold-effect paints, Gold effect pastels, marker pens etc. But Leafing/Gilding's effect is still un-matchable by any other alternative.

Most commonly used

Hotels and Offices

With continuous uses, this Art has been innovatively used in Luxury Hotels, Semi-Luxury Hotels, Motels, Inn etc. Hotel Industry has whole-heartedly appreciated, loved and accepted this form of Art and have been huge patron to it. It is also widely used in offices. It is used on Conference rooms, Directors and board members room, Dome, Ceilings, Walls, Lobby, Ball Room, Front Desk etc.


Also many connoisseurs has appreciated and used Leafing in their Houses, Villas, Bungalows, Flats, Apartments, Penthouses etc. Leafing in today's time have grown organically and done on Furniture, Walls, Ceilings, Ceiling Coffers, Artifacts, Frame,

Religious Places

Religious Places widely use Gold Leafing. Temple’s Kalash, Dhwajadand, Idols (murti) Angi, Mukut, Shikhar, Parikar, Sinhasan, are often coated with Pure Gold or Silver Leaf. Walls, Ceiling, Domes of Temple, Mosque, Mausoleum , Gurudwara, Churches etc.

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