Use of Gold in Painting
The use of gold in painting is linked to the recognition of the role of art of goldsmithing, that is the art that shapes the most precious metals. In Italy, with the enhancement of the tempera and fresco by Cimabue and Giotto, gold is used as the background of the base that accompanies the tempera itself. Late-Gothic masters use a special golden tablet to make the effect of raised objects and frequently use colors on a metallic leaf base to emerge thanks to a graffiti.
Even Masaccio uses gold in a more traditional way, which breaks the surface unity of painting. Later, however, the tendency to use this material such as to obtain the opposite effect will arise: therefore, the gold is covered to lower and give it a deep luminosity that does not disturb the tempera layers. The Madonna of the Linaioli by Angelico in Venice, with its golden drapes, is a beautiful example of these techniques.
A typical situation in which gold must live together with the new painting is the one that Piero della Francesca creates in the Polyptych in the Pinacoteca of Perugia: the background is no longer indefinite gold, but represents a fabric background, a wall covered by a rather heavy layer of gold on which the figures are painted in oil (including their halos). With the advent of oil painting, the use of gold becomes increasingly rare: it appears, for clearly devotional reasons, in the Crucifixion by Filippino Lippi, destroyed in Berlin in 1945. Instead, especially in relation to tempera painting, it is stated the use of shell gold, that is a particular ground gold used as a common pigment. A master in its use is Andrea Mantegna, who also uses it with veiling effects.
Even Botticelli, with less elaborate technique, uses it in the Birth of Venus, while we can find a wonderful combination with oil painting in the landscape of the splendid Portrait of Elisabetta Gonzaga by Raphael, almost a farewell that the young master takes from the techniques of court art of the late fifteenth century. Traditional techniques in the elaboration of gold funds survive for a long time, even among masters of good prestige, but afterwards gold is no longer among the materials of painting, and falls within those linked to more artisanal techniques.
We can remember, however, the use of shell gold in Amor Vincit Omnia by Caravaggio, a choice due to the taste for the direct relationship with the various types of surface in a naturalist context. Other experiences of use of gold, such as those of Gustav Klimt or other Liberty artists, however interesting, remain very isolated.