Architectural Glazes and Finishes Commonly Used Throughout History

architectural glazes

“It would be a thousand pities if such a beautiful art were lost” Andrew Miller, 1909

There is a fascination in the way colors can be mixed, manipulated, and modified, by using scumbles and glazes. Whether used to subtly change the tone of a color or to create the markings of oak or walnut, the possibilities are only limited by the capability of the painter. Throughout history, recipes and techniques were passed down from journeyman to apprentice and so on and as each painter perfected the skill, the realm of possibilities for a finish seems limitless.

ground pigments

Definition of Scumbling and Glazing

The terms scumbling and glazing are often confused and intermixed, though they identify two separate ideas.

A glaze is a thinned, transparent or semi-transparent color in oil or water. Altering the ration of pigment to medium to control the transparency, glazes are often used to deepen the tones of color, or to give a warmth or coolness to a hue.

With glazes, shadows can be made more prominent, colors can either be subdued or strengthened. Various textures such as rag-rolling, stippling, etc. provide texture and manipulate the glaze.

Scumbling is similar to a glaze, but is made more opaque. It is applied over a painted ground and is most often used in faux finishes such as wood graining.

architectural glazes

A detail of glazes applied in various textures at the Yale University, Sterling Memorial Library Manuscripts and Archives.

Throughout History

It is hard to say when glazing and scumbles were first used. It can be traced back to the Egyptians who were fond of rare woods and imitated foreign varieties. The craft was further refined in England during the 18th century through graining and marbling.

However, scumbling and glazing were used beyond imitating materials. It enhanced the light and shade within a space, considered the architectural features and other materials within a room, and provided aesthetic unity.

Colors, Techniques, & Uses

Scumbles are most often used in graining and often utilize earth colors and pigments ground in oil, turps, or water.

In woodgraining, a scumble is applied to the painted ground and flogged to provide the texture of the grain.

Glazing often employs a wider breadth of colors such as Prussian blue, Cadmium yellow, indigo and ultramarine.  Outside of marbling and graining, glazes and scumbles provided a multitude of finishes and are still found in historic buildings and interiors today.

yale university

Scumbling in plain colors, outside of earth tones, with softeners and floggers were often used to enhance the ambience of a space. In a dining room or library, for example, more subdued colors were often desired. Scumbles in color, such as a pale bronze greens, were flogged and would tie into the mahogany woodwork throughout the space.

Applying glazes to relief was often historically used on a variety of surfaces. It was applied to enhance the relief of finishes such as Lincrusta or Anaglypta wallcoverings as well as plaster or composite ornament. The reliefs were brought out by wiping off the glaze and allowing the color to deposit into the crevices of the relief.

glazed relief

A glaze was applied to the plaster reliefs to provide depth and enhance the details.

Beyond painted surfaces, glazes could be apply to gilded walls, ceilings, or ornament to create and variety of tones or metals. On silver or aluminum leaf, for example, a rich gold color was obtained by applying a thin uniform glaze.

architectural glazes

A cast plaster capital with aluminum leaf, glazed to mimic gold.

Understanding Glazes and Scumbles

When identifying a glaze or scumble, it is important to understand the intent. Colors were selected with purpose, finishes were applied with an objective. The craftsman understood the architecture and style of a space and chose their materials and techniques accordingly.


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