Imagine something that has, in its wake, mobilized armies, inspired branches of science, and roused its admirers into endless peregrinations across continents in its pursuit. Gold has been the subject of myth, adoration and bewilderment for thousands of years and our obsession with the precious metal shows no foreseeable signs of waning. In the Periodic Table of Elements, gold is represented by the symbol Au, ostensibly, derived from the Latin aurum, denoting shining dawn.
This truly sublime material has played a significant role in visual culture since it’s discovery over six millennia ago. In ancient Egypt, vast amounts of the metal, discovered in southern Nubian deserts, granted the civilization unprecedented wealth and influence. The Egyptians used this metal to adorn their temples, tombs, to make their jewelry, statuary and in the end left behind an enduring legacy fashioned purely of the luminous material.
One of the most fascinating results of the human obsession with gold remains the science that was devoted to its chemical creation. Alchemy was a philosophical and practical tradition, the chief efforts of which was to turn base metals into noble or precious metals—not to mention quest for the elixir of life. It was a science that had roots in antiquity and practitioners across three continents. It was a pursuit somewhere between science and magic that captivated and confounded civilizations for thousands of years.
In the twentieth century, painter Gustav Klimt reintroduced gold into the vocabulary of art with a renewed spiritual and sensuous lure. As one of the principal figures of the extraordinarily influential Vienna Secession, Klimt’s work revolved primarily around themes of eroticism. His work exemplified the fin de siècle preoccupation with matters of amatory pursuit, for which the femme fatale trope became a paragon. However overt the references to sexuality in Klimt’s work may have appeared, they were so often tempered by his use of gold, creating a deep connection between both the sensual and spiritual aspects of love. Looking at Klimt’s painting we cannot help but surrender to the reverential quality that is produced by the artist’s use of gold and its luminescent properties.
The symbolic nature of gold has changed very little since its discovery so very long ago. In his ethics Aristotle used gold to define a perfect and ideal principle, known simply as the golden mean. Gold is the symbol of love, intellect, wealth, purity, beauty, divinity and is the chief standard to which all things are measured. In our time, in fashion we get to wear the material in myriad forms. From accessories and jewelry, to ready to wear, the fashion industry at large continues to reflect our infatuation for the luminous and lurid material. Thankfully this has afforded us a great breadth of ways in which we can incorporate gold into both our wardrobes and our lives. From a classic gold metallic pump, to a metallic clutch or wrap, this holiday season indulge in the material that spawned a thousand imitators and whose chief tribute is an unparalleled history of both luxury and love.