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Girandoles were very common decorative pieces in the early nineteenth century, favored by people from Europe and America. “Girandole” is a French word that was originally related to candle holders. Today in America we often associate girandoles with gilt ornate neoclassical framed mirrors that may or may not have candle holders attached.
The frame arrived in the conservation lab with de-laminating gilding, missing carved decorative elements, and large areas of gesso loss. Our staff conserved the frame using traditional methods for water and oil gilding. We made an effort to not disturb any of the original gilded surface and to only repair the areas of loss.
The original gold surface was consolidated and cleaned. Once the original gold was stabilized, we filled in the surrounding areas of loss with gesso. The gesso works to fill the grains of the wooden substrate and provides a hard, even surface.
Next, “bole” or clay was applied over the gesso, creating a smooth layer that can be gilded over. We applied the extremely thin gold leaf using gilder’s water, then burnished and toned it to match the surrounding areas.
For aesthetic purposes, some of the original gilded surfaces were oil-gilded rather than water-gilded. We used oil gild to replace losses in those areas. These areas were gessoed, sealed, and coated with an oil size. Once the size became tacky, the gold was applied and toned.
Gold leaf is extremely thin and can be damaged very easily. This delicate craft has become very specialized, and can be very difficult if not approached correctly. It requires select techniques to handle the fine gold and adhere each crucial layer that makes up the surface. For our team, this girandole proved to be a fun and rewarding project.
Stop by and see this lovely girandole when Quincy House opens for the season on Saturday, June 2, during Historic New England’s annual free Open House.