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Gilt Leather Wall Hangings

From the 16th till the 18th century one of the most sumptuous kinds of wall hanging ever made is gilt leather. In the course of the 18th century it was superseded by painted canvas, oil-cloth and at the end also by wallpaper. Although gilt leather decorated originally quite a lot of castles, country houses and wealthy townhouses, they have become rather rare. Not seldom at all, their remnants can only be found in the form of screens or chair coverings. Most of the wall hangings which have come down to us, however, can only be seen in a few museums / castles or private collections.

Despite its name, gilt leather has nothing to do with actual gold but everything to do with silver. The leather was entirely covered with a very thin layer of silver foil and then covered with varnish. This combination created a 'golden surface'. Afterwards a pattern was printed on the surface and painted with different colours. Later, from 1628 onward, a metal mould was used and embossed gilt leather was the result.

The decoration of gilt leather was of course not all the same during the centuries. The patterns of the earliest pieces of gilt leather are inspired by, or copied from textile designs. But it did not take long before gilt leather manufacturers had their own designs specially made by both painters and silversmiths. For the most part these designs are generous in their decoration, with all kinds of variaties and combinations of floral scrolls (the auricular motifs), grotesque ornaments, birds, flowers, insects and allegorical figures.

In the early 18th century the gilt leather patterns became almost symmetrical, a change due largely to the influence of the architect Daniel Marot (1661-1752). In the second third of this century textile designs influenced gilt leather strongly. In fact, not only their designs were copied, but also the forms. Instead of the usual rectangular panels measuring approximately 65 x 75 centimeters, seperate sheets of leather were glued together to form long vertical strips.




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