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What does gold symbolize in art?

Published by Roland Uriko in category Tavex on 08.02.2022
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You must have noticed that almost no exhibition hall or museum is short of gold when visiting an art or history exhibition. How does gold relate to the art world, and what does it represent?

One kilo of gold is not a large quantity

One of the main reasons gold had (and still has) a unique meaning in art lies in its special properties. Many still wonder today how a seemingly small amount of gold can weigh more than you might think – a kilo of gold could be compared in size to a smaller mobile phone.

And because there is so little gold in the world, this is the main reason why it has been one of the most valuable and desirable precious metals since the beginning of culture and economy. This fascinating material has inspired people from ancient Egypt to famous artists today.

The magical properties of gold

The first thing you will notice about the sarcophagi of ancient Egyptian pharaohs is their iridescent golden appearance. Namely, the Egyptians used gold to decorate the tombs and sarcophagi to symbolize the immortality of the deceased.

It was widely believed that gold had magical properties. For that particular reason, gold was also worn as a talisman. At the same time, gold talismans were often placed in the coffins of the dead, since it was believed that gold guides the dead to the afterlife.

Since gold is indestructible, it is no wonder that it symbolized the bodies of the Egyptian gods, who were also believed to be eternal. The Egyptian heads of state often decorated themselves with gold to show their status.

Because the appearance of gold was more important than its purity, gold was often mixed with silver and bronze to further enhance the iridescent tone and save material. Therefore, the walls of the tombs were not painted with pure gold, but with various alloys.

Gold becoming even more special

With the start and rapid spread of Christianity, gold became even more important in the world. Gold became a symbol of the world invisible to man. Gold depicted the divine light, but also that God is everywhere we look.

Gold was used, for example, to decorate various religious books, including Islamic manuscripts, where a light-reflecting metal surface illuminated the manuscript. To achieve this, a gold leaf was placed and polished into the book, after that the details were drawn and ornaments were added.

The use of gold leaf was extremely popular in the 13th and 14th-century Italian paintings, where it was widely used in the works of many great masters. As the painting of religious works for the church was one of the main incomes for many artists, it is no wonder why gold is found in many medieval and Renaissance religious paintings and icons.

King Louis XIV, the controversial King of the Sun, was also fascinated by gold. The conviction of one’s superiority was also clearly reflected in the architecture of the magnificent castle of Versailles, which can’t be imagined without gold.

Gold is not just about religion

Gold has also played a special role in the biographies and creations of world-famous artists. One of the best known of them is Gustav Klimt, whose most successful time in his creative life is widely known as the “golden period”.

Namely, Klimt used gold in his world-famous works, which inspired him from his trip to Ravenna. By the way, Klimt’s father was a gold engraver. However, the way Klimt used gold in his work is completely different from his predecessors. Unlike religious icons, gold in Klimt’s works symbolizes intimacy, lust and sexual intimacy, which has given the artist much criticism in his time. Yet it is precisely because he has shifted the traditional boundaries that he is praised the most for.

So over time, gold has symbolized immortality, light, the body of the gods, and love and intimacy — all that is greater and more powerful than man.

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