Framing Gold | Gold | National Gallery

Framing Gold | Gold | National Gallery

In The National Gallery we have thousands
of pictures, this also means that we have thousands of frames. We’ve got a Framing
Department here who work tirelessly to find the right frames for our pictures and as all
of our visitors will know, most of the frames in the collection include gold. The carving, the gilding, the making of frames
has not changed since the sixteenth century. We still use the same materials, in gilding,
the same bole colours, sometimes aspects of a frame, sometimes the size, sometimes the
back of a frame have to be modified to fit paintings into the frame. The more important skill is to make this surface
look old. As a gilder in the Framing Department I come
into contact with gold on a daily basis, most of the collection’s frames are gilded. So what we do is we restore them, we repair them, we duplicate them and we do so using the same
techniques as five hundred years ago. We use gesso, we use glue, we use putty, we
use composition. Gesso is made out of glue and whiting, and
you have various types of gesso and according to what you need to use it, you will use a
different chalk. It has to be absolutely smooth, it has to
look like a porcelain plate, you should not see any mistakes in there, no brush marks,
no dips, it just has to be really beautiful. Though when you look at antique frames, you
sometimes see they’re a bit wobbly, and we have to replicate the wobble as well. So
we use a different Gesso to basically bulk it up, and to give that sort of wobbly effect
that it looks the same as we had before. Before I do the gilding I have to add some
clay colour which helps to adhese the gold, and I use a yellow all over and on the highlights
just a red. The colours help you to adhese the gold and also bring out the gold colour.
If you have a red underneath the gold it has a deeper colour. Well the next stage then is the gilding, which
is the fun part. You get your gold leaf, you cut it and then
you add a bit of water onto your clay colour and you put the leaf down with a tip. The gilder’s tip needs a tiny little bit
of grease, and usually you have some right here or on your cheek just a little bit so the
gold will stick on your tip to transport it over to the frame and then with a bit of water
I put it down. So once the gold has flattened and dried,
about four hours later, you can start burnishing with an agate stone and you can really make
the gold come alive. It’s just magnificent. Jan Van Eyck’s ‘Portrait of a Man’ with a
turban has a particularly well preserved frame, it’s almost miraculous in its state of preservation.
It’s got original gilding and original writing on top of this frame, that’s possibly why
it was so well looked after, so people knew that this frame was precious. Well, I love this tondo, which means a circular
painting. I like the shape and also I like the way the frame is applied onto the flat
surface. So you’ve got the carved wood, the rope
that goes around it, then you’ve got the pressed pastiglia, then you’ve got the dripped
pastiglia, and also here you can see little imperfections when you look at this pattern
here, you can just see where the gilder ended it up, it just didn’t quite fit so he had
to cut half of the flower off. On the flat surface what they did is making
little dropped gesso, pastiglia that’s slightly raised and also you see the little imperfection
on the halo, because there’s nothing worse than making a circle. When you punch a circle, sometimes you get disturbed and you see a little slip here and there, and I love it
because you can see the man made work here. I can relate to everything they’re going
through, and tondos, I love them but they’re a challenge. So here we are in front of Sebastiano del
Piombo’s ‘Raising of Lazarus’, a very important picture in the Gallery. It’s one of the
largest pictures we have and it was part of the foundational collection of The National
Gallery in 1824 when it was given the inventory number NG1. It is a painting that is difficult
and very dense, and very large, and it has a new frame. What was the starting point for making this
frame, is that the predella, the bottom part of this frame, has survived in Narbonne, in
the Cathedral where this painting was painted for originally. So we knew exactly what a quarter of the original
frame would have looked like. By chance we acquired the top of an enormous
altarpiece at an auction in Italy and that, combined with the knowledge about the predella,
made us think about making a frame for such a big painting. So it consists of, extraordinarily, a recreation
of the bottom part of the original frame and parts that all point back to the sixteenth
century. Yes, and they’re all antique frames, they
all have the same reference point of antique architecture. I wondered a little bit about the gilding. There’s quite a lot of gold and one challenge
of course is to tone it down to, in this case we had original early sixteenth century pieces. The toning of the gold is a very skilled process of making gold look as if it is five hundred
years old. It’s certainly brought out the painting
in the room. People who come into the room take photographs
of this painting in this frame just because it’s such a surprising sight. It’s really brought to the fore the qualities
of this complex and dense painting, and it reminds us that it’s a great masterpiece of
the time.



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