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Sacred Gold

Gold pectoral cross; panel on front engraved with a cricifix figure against a cross-shaped area, once keyed for enamel, of which only a red trace now remains, with pounced black enamelled letters INRI in black letters on a scroll above; the outer arms and

Clare reliquary ©

Gold as a precious material which does not tarnish has traditionally been perceived as pure and therefore suitable for the worship of the divine. For this reason, many of the vessels used in religious rites are made of gold or gilded metal.

Religious texts and illuminated manuscripts, used for private prayer and contemplation, often incorporated gilded details which would flicker by candlelight as if the text itself was a living entity. This effect is enhanced in the two manuscript pages where an illusionistic fly appears to have landed on the page, thus keeping the worshipper's thoughts grounded on mortality while engaged in prayer.

Many altarpieces were traditionally gilded. A layer of gold leaf would be applied to the underlying wooden panels over a layer of red-brown clay, which acted as an adhesive for the gold and added a warmth and depth to its colour. Duccio, for example, shows scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin against a backdrop of gold. The robes and haloes of the important figures are picked out in gold leaf to enhance their presence when viewed by candlelight. This golden layer has come to represent the light of heaven itself.