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Gesso Design Furniture

Wall Bracket
Wall Bracket, circa 1700.
By the 1680s, richly carved wall brackets served as stands for individual pieces of Chinese porcelain. Later brackets, dating from the 1730s, were designed to take busts and so were more bulky. The delicate structure of this example indicates that it would not have supported anything heavier than a porcelain vase.

What is called gesso work also brought to furniture makers of the Queen Anne age a medium with great decorative potential. Gesso was a composition which could be applied as a coating to tables, mirror frames and so forth, and consisted of whitening and size ; this preparation could be elaborately and very beautifully carved, and the scrolls and acanthus leaves that were expressed softly and delicately in gesso were gilded.

Gilt Gesso Table
Gilt Gesso Table, 1714.
By James Moore, Pine frame and oak top, carved, gessoed and gilded.
When first made, this table would have resembled solid gold. This bright, shiny effect was achieved by "water gilding". First the decoration was built up in gesso. Details were then cut into the gesso, using special punches on the table top. A red clay ground or "bole" was painted over the gesso design to enrich the colour of the gold. This was wetted just before the sheets of gold leaf were applied. Finally, the raised areas were burnished with agate (a hardstone) or a dog's tooth to achieve a gleaming surface.

The wood that was to be coated with gesso was roughly carved first, then after the composition was applied the more elaborate and delicate carving was executed. Originally an Italian process, gesso design came to Britain in the William and Mary period. Gesso extended the use of gilding, thereby increasing the richness of furnishing and enhancing the naturally fine hues of walnut.

Gilt Gesso Chest
Gilt Gesso Chest, 1720.
Carved oak, pine and gilt gesso, by James Moore.
Similar to an Italian wedding chest (cassoni).

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