September 12th, 2011
Artist(s)/ Artisan(s) unknown
Two views of a pair of Louis XV rococo ormolu chenets, ca. 1740s
Ormolu was a painstaking process whereby finely-ground high-karat gold was applied, using mercury and kiln-firing, to a bronze object d’art. The effect achieved is said to have been unequalled in terms of lustre & richness of color (and based on the examples I’ve offered here, I can see why). But the process was also pretty heavy on the mercury fumes, so gilders didn’t live very long, and in 1830 mercury was banned from this kind of gilding process. When I look at these two pictures I think of the gilder (or gilders) who helped create them and works like them: probably forgotten, brainpans swimming with quicksilver and dead early, unwitting sacrifices to… what? Rococo? The refined tastes of royalty? A R T ? Look at these andirons, licking up into the void like the flaming logs they were designed to support, beautiful, serpentine, alien — who made them & what kind of lives did they lead? I wish the love and praise lavished on these objects could somehow add to the souls of those whose lives were cut short crafting them. That they could somehow witness what’s come of their efforts in whatever incarnation their souls inhabit, bear witness to how their poisoning wasn’t in vain.
For more related info, check out this great post about 18th and 19th century gold leafing, ormolu, & other related decorative methods over at Decor To Adore.