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Advent Definitions: All that glitters

Vicky APrice7 December 2017

‘Gold’ in R 221 DICTIONARIES WORCESTER 1855 – Worcester, A universal critical and pronouncing dictionary of the English language (London, [1855])

There is much to be celebrated about gold in its many forms. From the most precious jewellery to the cheapest golden glitter pen, for me gold always brings about a giddy fascination.

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.

 

Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

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:

 

The beginning of the Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan poem

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:

 

A gilded chicken!

Others preferred to stick to colouring in, tackling copies of some ornate lettering:

 

A slightly psychedelic take on an image from Biblia Latina, an illuminated bible from the 13th or 14th century (MS Lat 9)

We even experimented with ‘aging’ the gold leaf:

 

Not a bad first try with using 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!