Are you a regular at art stores? Do you usually order fancy birthday cakes from high-end bakeries? Then you might have already stumbled on gold leaf. This gold derivate is available in most craft stores and has been used for centuries to decorate art pieces and luxurious interiors.
But what is gold leaf? Is it actual gold? How pure is it? Is it edible? I had all these questions and many more when I decided I wanted to research this fascinating product a little bit more.
And the answers definitely satisfied my curiosity and then some. If you too find gold leaf a bit too peculiar for your understanding, make sure to read this article throughout. I promise you will leave with a whole new understanding of this enchanting product.
What Is Gold Leaf?
Gold leaf is actual gold that has been hammered into thin sheets, usually around 0.1 microns thick. The technique used for this process is called gold beating, and the resulting product is often used for gilding.
These metal sheets come in a variety of shades and karats and have been used for thousands of years for their aesthetic properties. You will commonly see it on picture frames, pieces of furniture and more recently, used to accent different parts of an art print for a more expensive look.
The pure gold leaf should be 24-karats. The most gold leaf you will find available in stores will be 91.7% pure – i.e. 22-karat gold. The purest forms of gold leaf are used to gild different objects. The process presumes to layer gold leaf over the surface of the object through various mechanical techniques.
The most highly-regarded form of gold leafing is traditional water gilding, which has remained pretty much unchanged for hundreds of years.
What Are The Different Types Of Gold Leaf?
Gold leaf is a commonly used decorative material, and it comes in a broad range of karat values and shades, which vary from the classical bright yellow to rose gold, and even silvery leaf made with white gold.
The highest purity you can find will be 24-karats leaf, with its purity going down to 50% in the case of 12-karat leaf. The remaining metal is usually going to be silver.
The shade of the product can also be influenced by the metals in its composition. Gold leaf containing silver or palladium will lighten its shade towards white, which drove the combination to be known as White Gold. Copper will make it slightly reddish, instead.
Pure gold leaf will maintain its sheen over time, and it will not tarnish or change color. Lower purity leaf will oxidize if left unsealed, which will give it a slightly darker, more faded color.
Gold leaf that is not actually made out of gold is called Dutch Leaf, and it is made out of copper and zinc. It will fade a lot quicker than its real counterparts, but you will usually find it for a lot cheaper prices.
What Is Gold Leaf Used For?
The elegant, upscale look of gold leaf has made it a very prevalent decorative element in various domains. The accessibility of this flashy product made it a preferred way for artists to add an extra layer of interests to their pieces.
Nowadays, you can find gold leaf in various hobby stores and the pricing is almost always reasonable, especially for the kind of unique effect it gives to finished pieces.
Moreover, it is frequently used in architecture, both for its aesthetic properties and as a protective finish, since gold has a non-reactive nature that protects the buildings against natural wear and tear.
Gold Leaf In Art
This ornate element has been used in different art practices ever since early antiquity. Old masters were using it to wrap objects, often without any gilding techniques.
You will often find gold leaf decorations on statues, Christian icons and on the intricate frames used to hold paintings, small objects like jeweler and mixed media and paper art.
Some of the oldest pieces using gold leaf for decoration are a Mycenaean necklace, dating back to 1400, a Byzantine Gospel lectionary circa 1100, various leather book covers and manuscript pages. These pieces of history can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Art Institute of Chicago.
Modern mixed media artists use gold leaf frequently to embellish their physical prints or paintings since the unique sheen of the gold has dramatically increased in popularity over the years.
Gold gilded pieces of art are highly sought after because they add a certain lavish flair to any interior.
Gold Leaf In Architecture
Ever since 400 AD, gold has been used plentifully in Byzantine and Roman churches and basilicas. One great example is the famous Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, built by Pope Sixtus III. This basilica features one of the earliest examples of a gold mosaic.
Its ceiling is said to be covered in gold that Cristopher Columbus presented to Ferdinand and Isabela, monarchs of Spain.
The Palace of Versailles is also abundant in various gilded architectural ornaments that give it its affluent look. A lot of beautifully designed churches in Moscow feature imposing domes that are covered in this golden ornament.
Most prominent buildings that employ gilding as a means to catch the viewer’s attention were created in the US after the Civil War (the mid-1800s).
During this period, several wealthy families put together their riches as a result of the Industrial Revolution, which made it possible to ship metals and other goods more quickly.
As a result, gold-gilded, Baroque-esque ornaments became more and more prevalent.
Gold Leaf In The Kitchen
You certainly saw gold leaf being used by bakeries to decorate lavish-looking cakes and other pastries. The gold leaf used in candy making usually comes in sheets or flakes, and while it is one of the world’s priciest foods, it is still relatively inexpensive.
Especially considering it’s real gold. While you will usually see it used in dressing up desserts, a lot of high-end restaurants will use flakes or various cuts of the leaf to ornate their most expensive dishes.
Moreover, it is frequently used as an ingredient for top-of-the-line, exclusive courses that can come with price tags of thousands of dollars. Bartenders will use it as well to add romantic specks of gold in their cocktails, and there are several companies producing gold leaf champagne or cognac.
Is Gold Leaf Edible?
Gold is categorized as biologically inert, which means you can safely eat it and it will not react with anything in your body. The leaf will pass your digestive tract without being absorbed, which means it will come out the exact same way it came in.
And passing gold is definitely something that you should experience, at least once.
So gold leaf is absolutely safe to eat, which makes it such a sought-after garnish in luxurious kitchens. But not all gold leaf is edible. While gold is safe to consume, leaves with lower purities can contain other metals and impurities that could make you sick.
Thus, it is vital that you buy your edible gold leaf from a reputable provider. If the product you bought does not mention being edible, you can check your purity to get some peace of mind. The regular gold leaf you find in craft stores can be edible, as long as it passes the 22k mark, even if it is not specifically marketed as edible.
Is Gold Leaf Expensive?
You can buy square sheets of gold leaf that vary in size from 1 ½ inch to 5 ½ inches. They will be sold in booklets of 10 to 100 pages, that will be separated by paper sheets, usually waxed.
You can also buy flakes, which are sold in jar-like containers, starting at a 100 milligrams weight, up to 1 gram.
Even though it is considered a luxury item, gold leaf is usually not expensive. It is real gold, but the thinness of the sheets allows for affordability.
A pack of five sheets, three by three inches will usually run about $24 if you buy them online. Moreover, a small jar of 30mg gold flakes can be bought for $15.
Whether you’re surprising your loved ones with a show-stopper birthday cake or thinking of levelling up your art with some extravagant panache, gold leaf is a practical, distinguished and affordable option.
It has been used since the dawn of time to create pieces we now have the honor of admiring in the world’s biggest museums. It has provided us with visually striking experiences, feelings of decadent exclusivity, and it did a great job at preserving our antiques.
Getting into the gilding hobby can be an inexpensive way of lavishly showcasing your art or elevate any precious object you own. And that’s not all! Delving deep into the history of this practice can really put life into perspective. And you get to eat gold with your dessert.
It practically does not get better than this. If you have any questions, just leaf me a comment!