As the definition suggests, it’s a material and colour that usually denotes value, beauty, godliness or importance. When I see it in art I often think of the adoring artist, unashamedly displaying admiration and enchantment with someone – think Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – or a pious artist creating an icon intended to glow with luminosity above an awe-struck congregation.
The same is the case when I happen upon gold in UCL’s Special Collections. We hold many manuscripts and rare books that feature gold leaf – either on the pages’ edges, the binding or within the text and illustrations themselves. Perhaps the most staggering example is a copy of the Persian poet’s Masnavi-I Akbar Sultan (‘Romance of the Sultan Akbar’) from 1749. The cover is gilded and ornately decorated, while the leaves inside radiate a dazzling richness only possible through the use of gold leaf:
This tome, along with other manuscripts and manuscript fragments were the inspiration for a community art project in the Summer with with Sidings Community Centre. They host regular adults’ colouring in sessions, during which local residents for whom social isolation is a high risk come together to enjoy some light-hearted art. I brought them copies of UCL’s most glamorously golden items, and together we had a go at doing some of our own gilding, inspired by the collection.
Some members of the group brought in a chosen fable or poem:
Others preferred to stick to colouring in, tackling copies of some ornate lettering:
We even experimented with ‘aging’ the gold leaf:
We look forward to more community and school projects that explore the incredible collection of manuscripts and manuscript fragments at UCL – especially if it means we get to bring the glamour of gilding to more workshops!