The Midas Touch
The Midas Touch
Maurizio Carletti is a gilder and restorer of gilded antiques. He is one of the last master artisans of traditional water gilding in Italy, and the world. Like many in historic artisan professions, he learned his craft as a young boy in the workshop of his father Otello Carletti.
The Trevi Fountain's gilded lettering, countless works of furniture and frames at the Napoleonic Museum of Rome, and the Triton and Naiad group gilded works belonging to the Capitoline Museum are just several of his notable restoration commissions to date.
Master gilder Maurizio Carletti uses the traditional water gilding technique to decorate furniture, frames, sconces, sculptures and large scale architectural works such as ceilings. Gilding can be applied uniformly to an object in a range of finishes or selectively, as in parcel gilding, in which only the details of a surface, such as a ceiling, are highlighted. Some items, such as picture and mirror frames can me made to order. For more information, simply click below to contact us with your needs.
Water gilding is the most time-consuming and difficult gilding process, though it can produce the most brilliant and lasting finish. This technique has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, and typically begins when a wood surface is sanded and undercoated with layers of gesso (fine gypsum mixed with rabbit skin glue) and sanded again.
This preparation can also be used on any surface that can retain the base coat, such as plaster and stone. Next, another layer of richly pigmented undercoating, called bole, is applied. Bole is a mix of clay and rabbit-skin glue, and it offers a nuance of color under the gold. Any antique collector can instantly recognize a traditionally gilded work from the inimitable, atheistically pleasing, hint of red or ochre peeking through the gleam of gold.
Maurizio prefers traditional Italian boles, used for centuries, from clay in Umbria and Tuscany. Next, he applies a thin wash of water and gelatin to help adhere genuine gold leaf. Gold leaf is a sheet of real gold, beaten into a sheet only two-hundred-and-fifty-thousandth of an inch thick. Because it disintegrates to the touch or even under a heavy breath, Maurizio uses special tools to handle the delicate material: a gilder’s cushion, a gilder’s knife and a flat squirrel tip brush called a gilder's tip.
With a quick brush of his cheek, the gilder's tip acquires static electricity which he uses to lift a gleaming sheet from his book of Florentine gold leaves and carry it to the prepared wet surface. Once dry, the gilding is burnished in gentle smooth strokes to the desired degree of luminosity with agate stone. Differently shaped tips offer Maurizio access to various shapes and sizes of curvature.
Gold leaf does not tarnish, and has a satin finish that lasts centuries. Metal leaf in various other precious metals and alloys are also available for this technique, some of which, like silver, require a final coat of varnishes as they naturally tarnish. A less expensive alternative gilding technique (with foundations in the 18th century) is called argentato a mecca, which uses silver leaf instead of gold leaf. While the initial water gilding process remains the same, the silver is ultimately covered with a translucent yellow varnish made of gum shellac, or "mecca", that gives the silver the look of gold.
When Gilding Loses its Glitter
When Gilding Loses its Glitter
Restoration can follow two approaches. A conservative approach must carefully match the materials and tonality originally used with the expectation of preserving as much of the original gilding as possible. A more liberal approach allows for more pronounced changes which can make an object look brand new. Often, the gold itself can outlast the materials underneath it: wood is particularly vulnerable to damage from humidity and pests. In the case of serious support damage, a piece is first stripped to treat underlying problems, any missing pieces are recreated with plaster, and the work is gilded as if new, though various finishes can match the original patina to maintain its aged aesthetic.
Whether you are a private antique owner, museum, or historic hotel, feel free to contact us for a valuation and estimate for your restoration needs.
A Golden Era
A Golden Era
Gold leaf is often thought of as a Medieval innovation, but in fact it has been a revered surface decoration for thousands of years. Its color, reflectivity and permanence have been associated with beauty, richness and immortality in cultures across the globe and for millennia.
The first civilization to catch the gold bug was Ancient Egypt. As a culture that worshipped the sun, its golden light took on a spiritual quality. While there are examples of objects wrapped in gold foil which date from as early as 3000 BCE, the historical origins of gilding using thin gold leaf took another 700 years. Egyptian tomb paintings and reliefs from the 23rd century BCE are the first examples depicting gold being beaten into leaf. The Egyptians used this gold to adorn precious objects just as tombs, sarcophagi, and furniture.
In ancient Greece, gold leaf was used in the construction of Chryselephantine statues. There are known examples of these from 2000 BCE. The most famous is the Statue of Zeus in Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Romans used gold leaf to gild the ceilings of their palaces and temples, an architectural trend which extended in the Middle Ages to palaces and churches throughout Europe.
In the 15th century, Italian master artisan Ceninno Cenini wrote Il Libro Dell'Arte, a handbook to gilding and other techniques, and this is still considered the bible of the craft today.
Gilding reached its highest level of expression in France during the reign of Louis XIV.
Today, gilding has extended to variety of decorative applications: frames, furniture, art, interiors, ceramics, bookbinding, and even food (pure gold leaf is edible). Meanwhile, the techniques of water gilding have remained virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages.