The high level gilding in the Nash Staircase which would have surrounded the inner skylight has been painted over.  When we were able to get up to have a look, tantalizingly you could still see tiny gold glimpses in the cracks of the paint.

Glimpses of the over painted gilding visible under the cracking paint.

Glimpses of the over painted gilding visible under the cracking paint.

Paint analysis showed that there would have been two bands of gilding on the inner and outer edges of the moulded oculus with the middle section painted in the pink glaze, linking to the fish scales in the dome.

Paint analysis revealing hints of the paint schemes that were there before.

Paint analysis revealing hints of the paint schemes that were there before.

As any attempt to clean the paint-over section resulted in the gilding underneath being removed too, it was decided to redecorate and re-gild this feature.

Gilding is the art of applying thin leaves and foils of precious metals to a surface to give the appearance of a solid or inlaid metal.  The process used has changed little since antiquity.

Showing how thin and fragile the gold leaf is.

Showing how thin and fragile the gold leaf is.

Preparation is the key to good gilding.  The timber used must be sound, free from dust, dirt and grease and well seasoned.  The surface is first primed with a coat of hot rabbit skin size to seal the surface.  Any joints, knots or cracks are strengthened with a layer of cloth.

The gold leaf can be cut and transferred to the work area in a number of ways.  The gilder quite often uses a leather ‘cushion’: they open the book of gold leaf and transfer a page quickly to the leather, so that it is flat and ready for cutting.  Professional gilders will usually empty several sheets onto the back of the cushion, select a sheet from the pile, carry it to the front of the cushion and lay it flat with a puff of air.

Blowing the leaf onto the cushion to make it lie flat.

Blowing the leaf onto the cushion to make it lie flat.

Gold is cut and picked up from the cushion and transferred to the brush by firstly drawing the brush across your hair neck and face so that it picks up the natural body oils, but it can’t be too greasy or it will not release the gilding and the leaf will be torn.

Cutting the gilding ready to be picked up by the brush and applied to the size.

Cutting the gilding ready to be picked up by the brush and applied to the size.

Picking up the gilding with a brush.

Picking up the gilding with a brush.

There are two techniques of gilding, water and oil.  We used oil gilding for the Nash Staircase dome.  In this technique the gold is brushed onto a surface prepared with gold size onto a non absorbent area and waiting for the right stage of tackiness.  Gold size is linseed oil which has been heated with a drying agent, traditionally lead oxide.  We used a yellow coloured size to make it easy to see the area where the gold is to be applied and it also enhances the appearance of the gold.

The upper and lower band painted in the coloured size ready for the gold leaf to be applied.

The upper and lower band painted in the coloured size ready for the gold leaf to be applied.

The gold is then pressed onto the size and finally the excess is removed by a soft brush (skewing in).

Brushing the gilding onto the size.  At this point the gilding looks rough.

Brushing the gilding onto the size. At this point the gilding looks rough.

Brushing the gilding on.

Brushing the gilding on.

Smoothing the gilding using a soft brush ().  The pot is to catch the loose leaf as it falls.

Smoothing the gilding using a soft brush (skewing in). The pot is to catch the loose leaf as it falls.

Finished gilding.

Finished gilding.

All the photos is this post were taken by our lovely Volunteer Roof Photographers Richard and Angela Knisely-Marpole.

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