The oldest surviving pictures which are adorned with gold but which are not actually products of the workshop of goldsmiths are the "gold glasses", known as .fond door. Many variants of fond door were found in Roman catacombs. These were paintings with gold leaf dating back to Classical and early Christian times. Such glasses portrayed religious, secular and mythological themes and are distinct in technique from subsequent painting on gold leaf and stencil work. The gold adornment has survived undamaged because it was ringed by protective glass. Gold's enduring quality and resistance to gust made it a suitable medium for the artists who fashioned these
Objects. There is, however, some suggestion that these glasses served primarily as a basis for burial symbols in a cult of the dead rather than having been chosen for those practical reasons associated with gold's purely physical qualities. These works probably influenced the later development of painting under glass. In religious painting, gold under glass was often employed to form halos. Occasionally it was also used to lend ornaments and golden vessels verisimilitude. The decorative effect of gold has always made a considerable impact. Gold etching is another form of glass painting. A design is worked onto a lampblack-covered glass plate. The design, created in a fashion similar to that of etching, appears after it is backed with gold or silver leaf. Golden light filled the churches of the middle Ages, shining down on the faithful through stained glass portraying visions of the New Jerusalem. It was, in fact, silver rather than gold that usually created the "golden" effect. So-called silver-yellow was used from around 1300 onward. Its color effect ranged from pale yellow to dark orange.
THE COLOR OF POWER
When the pharaoh of Egypt, incarnation of Horus, the Sun God, surrounded himself with the radiance of gold, the earthly reflection of the light of the sun, gold symbolized his claim to power as well as the reality of his authority. It was the beginning of a tradition which, through a variety of religious and political instruments, has remained very real and universally understood through the ages, up to the present day. Emblems of rank and status are still commonly displayed in gold. In painting, the best known golden symbol is the halo. It was used in Antiquity, in Indian and Oriental art, and in Christian religious paintings. In Byzantium,
The halo symbolized both the temporal power and spirituality of the emperor. Until the end of the fifteenth 'century, Christian art tended to portray the halo in the form of a disc. During the Renaissance, it became a garland of light rays. In the art of the medieval period golden radiance was not restricted to halos. It often featured as a golden surface covering large portions of the painting. It sometimes even covered the bodies of particularly divine or saintly personages, as in the case of the Golden Madonna of Essen Cathedral.
The American pop artist, Andy Warhol, seemed to create a modern version of the traditional image of the Virgin Mary with his photomechanical reproductions of a portrait of actress Marilyn Monroe, with her face set in a golden background.
Andy Warhol's "factory" he prefers to avoid the word studio had an output of two to three pictures a day when "Marilyn" was produced. These "icons" of the consumer age produced almost as quickly as other consumer articles were often merely flattering portrayals of celebrities, politicians, successful artists and Warhol himself. The use of gold and silver paint and the choice of "demi-gods" of the 1960's as subjects hinted at religious overtones. Other critics live suggested that mockery rather than adulation was involved.
What did the gold backgrounds for much early Christian and medieval art symbolize? "They revalue the limited and restricted Earthly domain, transferring it to a higher sphere where the laws of earthbound existence no longer are valid." They are "surfaces without end", "ideal space", "emblems of divine transcendence", "reflections of divine radiance", "and the luminous space of the divine". Art historians have used these and other pretentious phrases to try to define the phenomenon. And what of gold in the work of such modern artists as Julius Bissier or Yves Klein? "Bissier is especially fond of gold because of its material charm and also for its spiritual qualities" (Werner Schmalenbach). "Gold is the law and God the Father" (Paul Wember).
Questions about gold's significance in art can often be answered in similar terms, whether it be medieval or modern art. Unfortunately, attempts at interpretation are often as vague as they are eloquent. Twentieth century artists have often spoken about their use of gold in a defensive fashion. Others have chosen to be ironic about it. Obviously, for such artists gold still retains the power to stimulate conflicting feelings, and is seen as both desirable and crass.
Johannes Itten (1888-1967), one of the early members 'of the Bauhaus movement wrote: "Golden yellow is the highest sublimation of matter through the power of light, radiant beyond comprehension, opaque, light as movement. Gold was frequently used in painting in earlier ages. It signified radiant themes. The golden domes of Byzantine mosaic art and the golden background of paintings of the old masters were symbols of the Beyond, the miraculous, the realm of light and sunshine. The golden halos of saints were the symbols of their inner radiance. Saints who attained the level of spiritual supremacy lived as if shrouded in light in which, enraptured, they hardly breathed. This heavenly light could only be portrayed symbolically by means of gold."
Frenchman Yves Klein (1928-1962) was one of the most prominent painters of the New Realism, a West European avant grade movement of the 1950's. In 1949, he produced the first monochrome painting, a board colored blue. In the following decade, Klein tended to prefer blue to other colors, but added more and more red and gold to his palette by 1960. This three color harmony, corresponding to the dominant colors of Gothic art, was designated by Klein as symbolizing the unity of three in one.
Julius Bissier (1893-1965), after long pursuing different threads in his artistic career, discovered in 1930 a simplified aesthetic language, with meditative undercurrents, which he employed for watercolors and gold-leafed miniatures. His biographer, Werner Schmalenbach, noted: "Bissicr's paintings have often been thought of as the work of a sage or a monk. They are reminiscent of Chinese themes. Indeed, the artists wag for a long time influenced by the spirituality and aft of the Orient." The Swiss artist, Heinrich Eichmann (1915-1970) was also a convert to gold. During the last decade of his life, he became involved with the use of signs and symbols, many of then contrived of gold leaf, in his paintings. Eichmann also created murals in which gold leaf was applied directly to concrete. He wanted the contrast between the naked wall and the gleam of gold to express "poetry as the feeling for life". Among the things which inspired his "gold art", Eichmann identified the refraction of light by water and the traditional use of golden backgrounds in Italian art.
Sophie Taeuber (1889-1943), who was married to the Dada artist, Hans Arp, began work as a textile designer. She then worked with Arp for a few years before setting up her own studio. In the Dada milieu and later, among abstract painters, she met many kindred spirits seeking firmer aesthetic roots. Her gold triptych of 1918 is not only similar to an altarpiece, it is radiant with the kind of grace which makes some modern work reminiscent of that of the old masters of western art.
The cast sculpture of the American artist Louise Nevelson, born in Kiev in 1900, consists of boxes, one atop the other, in which the artist placed various pieces of wood, mostly bits of furniture. The discards and rubbish of the consumer society were carefully blended, painted and transformed into works of art, even revalued into magical altarpieces. Such an interpretation might be explained by Louise Nevelson's interest in religion and by the resemblance of her work to altarpieces or reliquaries. And her practice of employing gold paint with stunning effect.
The gold leaf pictures of Gottfried Honegger (born 1917) are "meditation boards". Oblong structures pro-trued slightly from the picture and contain symmetrically arranged geometric elements. The way in which Honegger's gold surfaces glow against dark back-grounds is not unlike certain effects in Oriental religious art. In portraying the lives of Buddha and Bodhisattvas, Oriental artists used gold powder or gold leaf to attain their desired effect.
The Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), who setted in Paris in 1904, was among those who made possible the triumph of nonfigurative sculpture and was, thereby, one of the pioneers of modern art. His works, which seem to be based on elementary aesthetic principles, were strongly influenced by the folk art of his native country. One of his celebrated series, "Birds in Space" was titled "Golden Bird". Carola Giedion Welcker wrote of the ‘`golden" glimmer of Brancusi's work: "Polished as smoothly as possible, the radiance of the work is carefully and deliberately created. Transparency becomes transcendence. Not only does the process permit it to breathe light, it gives it a particularly intense spatial and spiritual power of emanation. The closed kernel-like form opens itself to space through its polished surface, shines through it and reaches out in reflective possession of it and of its surroundings."
Brancusi used only polished metal for his forms, of which he himself had a very high opinion. "Golden Bird" was originally intended for the Temple of the Maharajah of Indor where it was to be placed beneath a gap in the wall to divide the light.
The last version of Brancusi's most famous work, "The Endless Pillar", was one hundred feet high. Made of gilded steel, it was erected in Targujiu, Romania in 1937. The work is reminiscent of the carved funerary tomb slabs of Transylvanian burial grounds.
The Swiss artist, architect and designer Max Bill also aims for simplicity and perfection. However, Bill and Brancusi had totally different personalities, views on art and methods of working. Bill's sculpture, with its great precision and bold conception, appears to be inspired by space age technology. Many of his metallic sculptures were gilded. It is true that the essence of his art, which boldly rejects any kind of figurative or representational reference, is a denial of the emotional component of gold. But Bill makes functional use of the metal he achieves a distinctive polish with it and, of course, its non-rusting surface is enduring and easily cared for.
Gold as a symbolic color had a central role to play in art so long as the artistic content had an overwhelmingly religious or spiritual orientation that is, until the end of the Middle Ages. Subsequently, the advent of secular and temporal art, increasingly involved with representation of the material world, led to gold's disappearance from artists' palettes. Only in modern times, when the camera preempted the efforts of artists to reproduce nature faithfully and induced them to turn to subjective impressions for their aesthetic expositions, did gold emerge again in art. .Artists became interested in art that "does not reflect the visible but tries to make the invisible visible" (Paul Klee). Artists sought the fountainhead of creativity and symbolic color acquired new significance and meaning.
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the central figure of the Secession, a Viennese Art Nouveau group, made imaginative use of gold .around the turn of the twentieth century. I-le employed gold paint and gold leaf in a way which freed him from objective, representational truth. Though immensely disciplined, Klimt achieved an independence of technique and theme which .permitted him to subordinate the central subject of his paintings to finely wrought ornamental devices. This anti-descriptive quality was vastly enhanced by the use of gold color. At times, the effect of gold was a central aspect of his work.
But gold can also be used effectively in a more subdued fashion, as has been demonstrated in both modern and ancient art. For example, Gospels copied by Irish monks between the seventh and ninth century
Gold and art are sometimes thought. Of as opposites: one symbolizing the material world, the other re-presenting spirit, feeling and emotion. Yves Klein, creator of the first monochromes, objected to this duality. He sought to discount the emphasis on the material value of gold. I-lies cynical approach to prevailing attitudes was manifested in an exhibition at the Apollinaire Gallery in Milan where he displayed eleven monochrome paintings, all identical, but with prices differing substantially. In 1959, Klein had checks printed with which he sold "zones of aesthetic sensitivity". Such" sensitivity could be purchased from Klein with gold. But Klein kept only half the proceeds, casting the other half into the Seine in the presence of witnesses. Dismissed by some as farcical, it was a ritual which others chose to think of as reminiscent of the Well of Sacrifice of the Mayan City of ChichenItza, the Nibelungen Saga, or the ceremony in which the Doge of Venice symbolically married the sea.
Five of the checkbooks, with nine counterfoils bearing witness to the sales have survived. Among others, American artist Edward Kienholz apparently purchased a portion of Klein's "sensitivity". The checks were for twenty, forty, 160 and 1280 grams of gold in each case a corresponding amount of sensitivity was said to have been received in payment. The checks confirm the transactions with the following proviso: "These transferable zones of sensitivity can only be passed on for twice the price of the original transaction. The vendor risks total loss of his own sensitivity." The ambivalence between the material and spiritual significance of gold was also expressed in a work by Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers (born 1924) which displays carefully arranged gold bars in order of value, each bearing the name of an artist whose work Broodthaers admired.
Modern advertising campaigns often seek to associate gold with wealth and excellence. Gold-colored packaging is often used to make products more attractive. It is not surprising to see art trying to exploit the same device in its assault on the aesthetic imagination of the consumer society. Richard Hamilton and Andy Warhol, two of the best known pop artists, used gold unabashedly to achieve "popular" effects. In the mid 1960's, Hamilton did a series of sculptures one of them covered with gold leaf based on the shape of New York's Guggenheim Museum. The spiral-shaped museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959), is one of the most highly acclaimed edifices of recent decades, said by a cynic to be as well known as the latest model refrigerator. is The "Golden Egg" of Swiss artist Herbert Distel he (limn 1942) was also part of a series. Distel worked extensively with egg-like forms and created "eggs" at of the most varied materials. His golden egg made educe of the visual brilliance of gold as well as cycleth of-life symbolism of the form. Whatever the significance, the purchaser has the value of the object he confirmed by the cost of the material that went into it.
The mosaics of the church of San Vitale, in Ravenna d, (sixth century) are among the finest of all Byzantine n-mosaics and are unique examples of early Christian decorative art. On the whole, the mosaics of the period did not display realistic background settings. o: Instead they were often placed in a golden setting hi consisting of countless golden tesserae little stones r( covered with gold leaf or enamel. But gold is not merely the color of transcendence. In the San Vitale mosaics, it acquired two other functions as well as symbols. Of earthly and spiritual power and to sc underscore the magnificence of crowns garments and it ornaments.
A more splendid glorification of the Byzantine is emperor and empress was difficult to imagine. Just and Theodora appear extraordinarily ornamented, 13‘their portrayal as beautiful4as it is valuable. They are shown presenting a golden bowl and a golden chalice. Next to Justinian, Bishop Maxima is portrayed holding a Latin cross bedecked with jewels. Guards are shown in their most sumptuous uniforms. The "bulla", an oval amulet, hangs from heavy gold-en necklaces. Spears and shields are also decorated with gold. The ladies of the imperial court, attired in golden garments, wear golden brow bands, earrings, necklaces and bangles. Jeannine, a lady of the Emperor's retinue, whose hand is shown here in detail, wears a shawl embroidered with gold as well as red and green flowers.
Though painters of the middle Ages frequently used gold paint to represent gold itself, modern painters have tended to employ it in a less direct manner. For modern painters, golden objects are essentially capable of being influenced by their surroundings and the light they reflect. Rembrandt understood how to make gold gleam without using metallic gold paint (see "Man with a Golden Helmet",
After the Renaissance, gold was rarely to be found on the painter's palette. But the profound sense of; history which characterized the nineteenth century; restored gold painting and gold leaf to the artist's repertoire. The twentieth century has again seen a revaluation of the proper content of art. What had earlier) seemed its principle task describing perceived reality now often takes on merely incidental significance. Only in most recent times has gold acquired an important descriptive function in art, whether in popular art or in the traditional artist's search for personal truth and perfection.
Writer - Peter killer