Patterned and Tooled Gold Leaf in Medieval Manuscript Illumination
From a class given by Mistress Caitlin FitzHenry


Patterned and tooled gold leafing was commonly seen in European manuscripts starting in the twelfth century CE and continuing until the decline of illuminated manuscripts after the advent of printed books. English illuminators of the era used tooling most frequently in their work, but examples of tooled and patterned gilding can be found in French, German, Dutch, Bohemian and Italian manuscripts as well.

As the use of gold leaf declined in manuscripts, supplanted by shell gold and powdered gold, so did the richness and intricacy of the tooling techniques used.

Some English Examples
Life of St. Cuthbert, c. 1200
Psalter of Robert de Lindesey c. 1220-1222
Psalter by William de Brailes c.1230-1240
Ramsey Psalter c. 1300
Gorlestan Psalter c. 1305-1315
Luttrell Psalter c. 1334-1340
Lytlington Missal c. 1385
Carmelite Missal c. 1395


Some Continental Examples

French: Bible Moralisee c.1250
French: The Hunting Book of Gaston Pheobus 15th century
Bohemian: Golden Bull of Emperor Charles IV c. 1400
Italian: Italian Tarot Cards, first half of 15th century
Dutch: Fagel Missal c. 1459-1460


Some Basic Techniques for Patterned and Tooled Gilding:

All of these techniques were used alone or in combination to create different effects in medieval illumination.

Stippling: a stylus or blunt needle is pressed firmly into the gilding after burnishing to create dotted patterns and shading

Punching: a stamp or punching tool is tapped into the surface of the gilding after burnishing using a hammer, either to impress the design of the stamp, or to create deeper dotted patterns, outlines and shading.

Engraving: a scribing tool or stylus is drawn across the surface of the gilding after burnishing to create a continuous line or crosshatch pattern.

Modeling: layers of gesso are painted on in patterns or over larger areas in order to raise them above the gesso ground, used especially on anconas, or panel paintings, prior to gilding and burnishing the surface.

In addition to these basic techniques, illuminators and panel painters often combined them to achieve more elaborate effects. For example, raised areas could also be stippled or engraved to add to three-dimensional effects and to detail Glass jewels could be tapped into the gilded gesso to decorate engraved crowns and diadems. Rich brocade robes could be simulated by overpainting gilding with color, then gently scraping away the paint in a pattern as seen in brocaded textiles and stippling the exposed gold to resemble glittering woven gold threads. These combined techniques were more commonly used on panel paintings which were not exposed to as much wear and abrasion as book illuminations. The Wilton Diptych, c. 1396-97, is an extraordinary English example of the rich effects possible with gold tooling.

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