What is Leafing

 

What is Leafing / Gilding

Leafing or Gilding refers to special techniques for applying 100% pure or artificial Gold/Silver leaves (also known as warak) to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, glass, metal etc. to give a thin coating of Gold/Silver and add shimmer and elegance to the object. Foil and leaf gilding is used since the birth of metallurgy, 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.

History of Leafing

Art of Leafing / Gilding in one form or another has been known somewhere in the world for over four thousand 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 Leafing / Gilding made its entry in India through Mughal Kings and was accepted and improvised by other kings, so much as almost all palaces in India has leafing in some form or other. City Palace in Jaipur, Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad or Padmanabhapuram Palace in 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 was privileged for its properties: golden shine and glitter, resistance to corrosion (Gold is the most electronegative transitional element, therefore ‘noble’) and rarity. 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. It is valued both for its natural beauty and because it can be fashioned into most intricate and satisfying shapes and for preserving it’s shining, color 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 and are known as 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 by which a metal object can be made 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, and the vapor of the Mercury emerges into the air leaving the layer of Gold on Silver, Copper or other metals which 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  which includes Golden paint, imitation Gold-effect paints, Gold effect pastels, marker pens etc. But Leafing/Gilding's effect is still unmatchable 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.

Residence

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

Another Area where Leafing is widely used are Religious Places like, Temple’s Kalash, Dhwajadand, Idols (murti) Angi, Mukut, Shikhar, Parikar, Sinhasan,  and also on Walls, Ceiling, Domes of Temple, Mosque, Mausoleum , Gurudwara, Churches etc.