Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary
Ormolu / Ormoulu
OR ma LOO
Gilded bronze or brass
Mounts, medallions and molding applied on furniture. Also used on architectural details and jewelry,
Word is derived from or, French for "gold," and molu, meaning "mashed." The mounts were made from brass (made from copper and tin) that had been covered in "mashed up gold."
In fact, the technique involved mixing gold with mercury paste - hence the "mash" - applying the paste to the brass mount, heating the whole thing up so that the mercury vaporized, which left behind the gold which was fused to the brass substrate. The technique is also known as "fire-gilding" and, because of the use of mercury, is now banned without very expensive health and safety precautions.
France - History
Ormolu mounts were very common on furniture even under Louis XIV, but this type of decoration reached its heyday during the Rococo period, only to decline again in the Louis XVI age (Neoclassical), when ornamentation became simpler and more classical.
This type of metalworking was the prerogative of the fondeurs-ciseleurs (caster and chasers), whose guild is first mentioned in the 13th century. They produced scrollwork, botanical and animal motifs, and bronze foot-mountings in the form of acanthus leaves or animal hooves, which they then passed on to a maitre-doreur (gilder). Once these craftsmen had completed their combined work on a project, the ébénistes (artistic or creative cabinetmakers) would then fix the bronze appliqué to his furniture, often with so little care that the screw-heads remained visible.
Used on mounts, feet, and decorative details and common in late Federal and Empire furnishings.