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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Non-invasive analytical techniques applied to characterize the components of ancient golden medallions

Jose L Perez-Rodriguez1*, María D Robador2, María C Jimenez de Haro1, Jose M Martinez Blanes1, Isabel Garofano1, Carlos Odriozola3 and Adrian Duran4

Author Affiliations

1 Materials Science Institute of Seville (CSIC-Sevilla University), Avda Americo Vespucio 49, 41092 Seville, Spain

2 Technical Architecture Faculty University of Seville, Avda Reina Mercedes s/n, 41012 Seville, Spain

3 Department of Prehistory and Archaeology, University of Seville, Maria de Padilla s/n, Seville, 41004, Spain

4 Department of Chemistry and Soil Sciences, School of Sciences, University of Navarra, Irunlarrea 1, Pamplona, 31080, Spain

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Heritage Science 2013, 1:4  doi:10.1186/2050-7445-1-4

Published: 3 April 2013



The first stable material used to create a gilded surface was gold. False gold was also found in the form of copper-zinc powders or silver covered with resin. There are various ways to make gold leaf adhere to a large surface area. The identification of the materials and processes to make the gilding and the use of non- invasive techniques for gilding study is still an open problem. The gilding of the medallions from the Mudejar palace of Sevilla Alcazar was investigated, and their components were characterised using non-invasive (in situ and laboratory) techniques such as X-ray fluorescence, μ-Raman, infrared spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive X-rays. Cross-sections of golden support were also performed and studied by SEM-EDX.


The leaf adhered to the surface was primarily a gold alloy. However, copper, silver and zinc were also found. A layer of lead chromate with some lead sulphate was between the alloy and the support. This yellow pigment (lead chromate) and the layers of bole and white lead were characterised in cross-sections prepared from samples taken from the medallions in which the golden layer was missing. The support was composed of gypsum. Another golden layer applied in oldest time period was also found.


The non-invasive techniques provided useful information about the characterisation of the components of the golden medallions. However, complete characterisation of the medallions required the use of other techniques such as mass spectrometry and scanning electron microscopy- energy dispersive X-ray. This is the first time that lead chromate has been detected in gildings. The external gilding was applied at the beginning of the 19th century using mordant oil (linseed oil).

XRF portable system; XRD; SEM-EDX; Wall painting; Alloy; Gilding

Graphical abstract