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Ancient Gilders Best Modern Methods

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

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Today, protective coating durability is measured in years—decades, if you're lucky.

So how come some thin-film metal coating technology developed 2,000 years ago is still holding up?

The ancient gilders' secrets are the focus of new study by a group of Italian researchers.

Preserving Treasures

Using analytical techniques, the scientists set out to discover how gilders in the Dark Ages and other periods applied such lustrous, impressively uniform films of gold or silver to intricate objects, according to a release by the American Chemistry Society.

American Chemistry Society

How artisans centuries ago achieved sophisticated gilding, such as on the St. Ambrogio golden altar from 825 AD, is now coming to light, according to new research.

The scientists say understanding the sophisticated ancient metal-plating techniques could help artisans preserve artistic and other treasures from the past.

"Ancient Mercury-Based Plating Methods: Combined Use of Surface Analytical Techniques for the Study of Manufacturing Process and Degradation Phenomena," in the journal Accounts of Chemical Research, details their findings.

Mercury as Glue

According to the research, goldsmiths and silversmiths developed a variety of methods to create their masterpieces, including using mercury as an adhesive to apply thin films of metals to statues and other objects.

Gilding research
Accounts of Chemical Research

Without modern understanding of physical-chemical processes, ancient gilders produced coating technology that has not been seen since then, researchers found.

Sometimes, the technology was used to apply real gold and silver. It was also used fraudulently, to make cheap metal statues look like solid gold or silver, the scientists report.

Craftsman Competence

Modern thin-film coating technology used on solar cells, electronic devices and other products has not yet touched the level of competence reached by the artists and craftsmen of the ancient periods, the scientists note.

“The high level of competence … could not be bettered in ancient times and has not yet been reached in modern ones,” according to a statement on the findings.

The research was led by Gabriel Maria Ingo, senior scientist at the Institute for the Study of Nanostructured Materials of the National Research Council in Italy.


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Coating chemistry; Coatings technology; Gilding; Metal coatings; Specialty functions

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