12 March 2020

What is Gesso?

Gesso statues

In this article, we explore what is meant when an antique is described as ‘Gesso’, also known ‘Italian gesso’ or ‘glue gesso’.

Traditionally this was a mix of animal glue binder such as rabbit-skin glue, along with chalk, and white pigment. Gesso was also made from a mixture of zinc, dust and glue, plaster of Paris or whiting and glue.

The primary use of gesso was to coat rigid surfaces and get them ready for painting. It worked as an absorbent primer coat that held the paint well. Its primary function was to prepare the canvas, panels, sculptures for painting or gilding.

For sculptures, sculptors used Gesso to prepare the final shape of the sculpture, which was fused bronze or some also directly used it as a material for sculpting. In some cases, this was used as a layer that came between the gold leaf and the sculpted wood underneath. Such sculptures usually had a layer of clay, known as ‘bole’ that was used to cover the gesso.

Gesso has traditionally been used by craftsmen for centuries. It was most probably developed in Italy. For antique decoratives such as Gothic and Renaissance art for instance, the primary material was wood panels, and gesso helped the paint set well on this surface and not slide off of the wood. Gesso in sculpting can be used by casting it into a mold or used to actually make the mold. It prepares the surfaces well for gold leafing.

We usually have a few Gesso statues and panels at Brownrigg Interiors.

Browse through to have a look