Forgotten, extremely rare and incredibly beautiful — that is what gilt leather is like. Noble, decorative leather covered the walls in royal castles and church naves, it constituted an intricate detail work to antiques, arms, noblemen’s clothes and vestments. For decades gilt leather was sentenced to oblivion. Today its glory, artistry, and tradition is resurrected by Kraków-based Consiste workshop.
Gilt leather — historical wares made of manually painted, gilded leather, the production arcana of which had been perfected for centuries by master craftsmen of Spanish Córdoba, Flandres and the Netherlands, in Poland can only be found in the collections of Wawel Castle, several religious monuments, odd museum and private collections. Many people do not even realise what gilt leather really is, due to the fact that its use in the interiors was mainly limited to a decorative background. Hence, it was applied as elements decorating walls and furniture. In fact, it was nothing less than a sheet of manually tanned calf- goat- and lambskin which, having been embossed, decorated with silver leaf, then covered with varnish and painted, received a noble, golden shine. The technique of gilt leather processing originated in the Near East and dates back to the Middle Ages. Owing to the Moors, it reached Spain, wherefrom it spread to other European countries. Its other name of "cordovan” was derived from the Spanish city of Córdoba, the first in our continent to be famous for its gilt leather manufacturing. The peak of gilt leatherware production was reached in 17th and early 18th century. Unfortunately, there have never been a Polish guild producing these decorative items — they were therefore imported from outside the Republic of Poland, and, as such — their worth was considerable — looking back says Agnieszka Kosakowska, one of the originators of Consiste artistic workshop. The very family constitutes a miniature guild — all members deal with artwork conservation and creation of unique artefacts using seemingly long forgotten formulae. We were able to recreate the process of 16th century gilt leather development on the basis of available literature. We also managed to find the composition of a specific substance, known as varnish, which placed on leather is the source of a delicate, golden glare on the material. We use the same means and the same techniques that were necessary for its production four centuries ago. In order to create the perfect upholstery, we need natural, unprocessed leather, tanned with vegetable oils, glue, the aforementioned varnish, and gold and silver leaf — adds Maria Kosakowska, Agnieszka’s mentor, privately also her mum. The process of gilt leather production is complex and comprises many stages; it may take from three up to eight months, depending on its size, the number of pieces ordered — singular sheets of gilt leather which must then be glued together — and the preferred colours. Unfortunately, we could not shorten the process — having been covered with varnish, gilt leather has to dry even for as long as several weeks. After that, we go on to emboss the pattern using a special press, which imprints a given motif. We may also decide to punch the leather, i.e. decorate it with small stamps comprising a specific pattern. Then, we paint the patterns with oil paints, which also take long to dry. All that is extremely time-consuming, because every stage requires precise manual work. We are unable to speed it up. Still, this is the simplicity, the alluring and austere charm of the mundane production process, unaltered despite the flow of time — says Ewa Zielińska, co-originator and Managing Director at Consiste. In the past centuries, gilt leather was most often decorated with floral and animal motives, as well as military and genre scenes. Of course, today the replicas of olden patterns do not loose their popularity, however we are also able to create contemporary images, portraits and carry out any other individual artistic vision — narrates Maria Kossakowska, pointing to ingeniously decorated folding screens, as if jusy lifted from boudoirs, elegant cushions, cases, mirrors and jewellery with gilt leather surfaces. Cordovan, another word for gilt leather, also serves well as wallpaper, a typical wall decoration. It is not, however, glued directly to the surface of the wall, instead being mounted on special stretcher bar frames, helping keep the leather at the appropriate tension. It may also be used as furniture upholstery, looking great both in private houses, residences, restaurants, as well as in hotels and elegant boutiques. Kraków-based Consiste workshop provides care for its wares, including necessary conservation and upkeeping works for a year after the purchase. If you want to be original, to add a unique, nobel vibe to your interior — Downtown Abbey estate style, we invite you to reach out using the kurdyban.pl website.