Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Gilding and Faux Painting

Applicant: Waltraud Luegger
Province: Burgenland, Carinthia, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, Vienna
Domain: Traditional Craftsmanship
Year of inclusion: 2017

Gilding and faux painting have been practiced since ancient times in order to make objects appear as if made from solid gold or other materials. There are various techniques for doing so, such as poliment gilding and oil gilding. The faux-painting of non-gilded surfaces is referred to as Staffieren or Fassmalerei, terms which also encompass the addition of colour to sculptures and relief art as well as to picture and mirror frames, church altars, furniture, and interiors in general. This includes marbelizing, wood imitation, and porcelain imitation. Knowledge of the complex techniques involved is for the most part passed on orally, and mastering such work takes several years. The heyday of gilding and faux painting was during the baroque and rococo eras, and in the art nouveau and art deco periods, as well, these techniques were in high demand. From the second half of the 20th century, interest in such work greatly declined; gilding has all but disappeared in contemporary architecture, for which less and less craftspeople still practice and pass on these techniques.

Poliment gilding is the mainstay of a gilder’s craft. In this technique, a mixture of animal skin-based glue and various chalks is applied to a workpiece in several layers. After the surface has dried, it is sanded, and any engraved ornamentation is added. The adhesive for the gold leaf itself is poliment, a mixture of bolus (an earth pigment) and egg white, which is made according to recipes that are individual and handed down orally. With a water gilding brush (made from the ear-hairs of a squirrel), a so-called gilder’s liquor—a mixture of alcohol and water—is applied. Next, a gilder’s tip (a brush made from the tail-hair of a squirrel) is used to apply the gold leaf to the workpiece. And in the last step, an agate burnishing stone is used to burnish the dry gold to a high sheen.