Looking Glass, MFA Boston

Looking Glass, New England, about 1740-1760

This Looking Glass is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It was conserved to be part of the new galleries in the museum’s American Wing.

Although the overall frame was sound and stable, there were damages to the carved and gilded decor:

  • loose and flaking gilding
  • losses to carved elements
  • losses to the gesso and gilding

The conservation plan included consolidation all flaking  gilding to prevent further losses. It was also decided to compensate for all losses to the carved elements a apply new gilding to the replacements.

In traditional gilding there are two main techniques: water- and oil-gilding. In water gilding multiple glue- and chalk based gesso layers are applied to the wood surface. After careful sanding a layer of colored bole is added. Sheets of very thin gold leaf are then placed on the moistened bole surface. The dry surface can be burnished to a high sheen with an achate stone. This is the techniques which was employed here.

Missing elements were carved in linden wood. In order to distinguish the new gilding from the original non-traditional acrylic gesso and acrylic paint (as a bole replacement) were used. Differences will easily be visible under ultraviolet radiation.

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