The Cross of the Good Shepherd: Unique Gilt Sculpture

Unique Large-Scale Gilt Sculpture

The Cross of the Good Shepherd is Louise Nevelson’s only known large-scale gilt sculptural element, according to research conducted by Julianna Ly. While Nevelson would often apply gold spray paint to large scale sculptures, the gilding technique found here is rare if not unique in her work. At the very least, no other large-scale gilded Nevelson sculptures have been located to date.
 

Condition

Although dirt, dust and grime have accumulated on the gilt surface, and drips (probably from condensation) can be seen on the front surfaces, the underlying gilding is in good shape.
 

Findings and Approach

Surface examination revealed that a water gilding technique was used (although no supporting documentation of the techniques exists in Nevelson’s records). To achieve the water gilding, an initial bole (a red clay base) was applied and then covered with squares of gold leaf, which was then burnished to further adhere to the bole.

Using magnification and ultraviolet light, the team discovered that the surface had been coated with a natural resin, probably applied during original construction. The resin has a slight yellow/brown hue, creating a distinct finish over the brilliant gold.

It’s not clear who actually applied the gold leaf. There is no documentation of Nevelson gilding. However, documented working methods of other Nevelson pieces clearly indicate that Nevelson never surrendered control over executing her artworks. As a result it can be assumed that although Nevelson might not have personally applied the gold leaf, she had a strong role in managing the process.

 
 Gilding detail, edge of gilded panel. Dark areas are degraded varnish. 

Gilding detail, edge of gilded panel. Dark areas are degraded varnish. 

 A surface drip probably from condensation along the skylights above the Cross. The drip removed the surface dirt and natural resin coating, showing the difference between the coated and uncoated gilding. 

A surface drip probably from condensation along the skylights above the Cross. The drip removed the surface dirt and natural resin coating, showing the difference between the coated and uncoated gilding. 

Sarah Nunberg