Guide to Gilding: The Finish

Preparing an accurate historical reproduction frame is labor-intensive and can’t be rushed without compromising quality. Once the gold has been applied, Lowy’s team of gilders enters the home stretch: Burnishing, lacquering, and antiquing.

A frame can either be matte or polished to a fine, shiny finish. The process of polishing a gold leaf layer until it is shiny is called burnishing. The difference between a burnished frame and an un-burnished one is quite pronounced, as you can see from the examples below.

Cn Samps
The very shiny frames, such as those at the edges of this photo, are burnished. The frame at center right is matte.

As with carving or applying gold, burnishing can take a long time – two and a half hours are needed to complete even a small 25” x 24” frame! Burnishing can be done uniformly or in a decorative pattern. To burnish, we use an agate stone tool to apply pressure over the surface of the gold, and it becomes shiny.

After the gold is burnished, a piece of cloth is often rubbed over the frame, allowing the colored clay base to peek through. This thinning of the gold layer is called the rub through, and it makes the frame look authentic. The surface is then coated with a clear sealer such as shellac, which protects the gold, making it last longer and creating a smooth, aesthetically pleasing surface. After the sealer is dry, we have the option to apply a patina to the surface in burnt umber, raw umber, white or black. The patina makes the frame look as if it has aged over the years from a newly made object into a storied antique. We think such historical objects, even when they are imitations, give a room character and comfort. Our clients choose whether or not we apply a finish as well as what kind.

View on Vimeo.

This concludes our guide to gilding, but stay tuned for other topics in framing and fine art services! For more information about Lowy’s world-renowned frame reproduction abilities, along with our collection of 5,000 unique antique frames, please call 212-861-8585 or visit

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