A Golden Garden

Brocade Paper

Luxurious gilt brocade paper, as the title shows, is closely related to brocade fabric and other luxurious fabrics, woven or embroidered with gold thread which, as early as the Middle Ages, had reached Europe from the East.

Matsya (1826) by Louis ChorisVilnius University Library

Brocade paper endpapers (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

Brocade paper imitated this luxurious fabric and served as a much cheaper substitute used in the decoration of various objects – boxes, pieces of furniture, clocks, musical instruments and books.

Although in Europe brocade fabric was immensely popular in the Renaissance period, the paper that imitated it appeared sometime later – at the end of the 17th century. In some part it is related to technological novelties. Metal engravings and, in comparison with the block-printing decoration technique, intense pressure that could be done by using an etching press (as it was already applied in graphic arts) were necessary for the decoration of brocade paper.

A cover decorated in brocade technique (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

From the end of the 17th century, the most distinguished guilds of such paper were founded in the German towns and cities. The most famous guild was situated in Augsburg. Because of that brocade paper is in some sources referred to as Augsburg paper.

The most common sort of brocade paper is gilt single colour background paper. A sheet of paper that is to be decorated was covered in a desired colour; then, gold-coloured metal alloy leaves were applied to the coloured sheet. A heated metal plate engraved with the desired drawing was placed on top, and the sheet, golden leaves and metal plate were firmly compressed in a press. When the sheet cooled down, remains of golden leaves were brushed off and thus a sparsely coloured paper background would be revealed.

Brocade paper. Geometric pattern (17th c.)Vilnius University Library

As time goes by, metallized parts of the decorated paper tend to darken and often lose their original glitter.

Engraving (2nd half of 18th c.) by Denis Diderot, Jean R. AlambertVilnius University Library

Patterns that are printed with the help of the engraved metal plates are quite detailed and accurate. In this they differ from the slightly crude prints that are printed from wood blocks.  

The difference between block-printing and metal engravings can be seen when comparing the print of brocade paper with its earlier prototype, called bronzefirnispapier (bronze varnish paper) in German.

Bronze varnish paper (End of 17th c. - 18th c.)Vilnius University Library

The pattern on this type of paper was printed while using block-printing technique, by pressing a woodcut block on the background coloured by hand.

Gilt patterns were obtained by using metallic paint. Relief is not characteristic for such print.

Coloured brocade book cover (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

On the contrary, expressive relief is characteristic to the metal engraving print.

Note the clear lines and detailed drawing.

Brocade paper (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

One of the most popular brocade paper patterns is floral motifs of various, often exotic, flowers. In the 18th century nature is increasingly sought to be portrayed realistically. This trend is partly reflected in the decoration of fabrics and paper.

Brocade paper with floral motifs (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

Several of the most common motifs were chrysanthemum, pomegranate, grape, rose, carnation and tulip. 

Brocade paper with zoomorphic motifs (2nd half of 18th c.)Vilnius University Library

In the 18th century, owing to the growing contacts of Europeans with Eastern countries, motifs inspired by the Far East cultures, so called chinoiseries, became exceedingly popular.

Bracade paper with fish ornament (c. 1782)Vilnius University Library

Not only ornaments of exotic plants, but also ones of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic kind can be seen in the patterns of the brocade paper.

Brocade paper. Manufacturer's name inscription (c. 1755) by Johann Michael MunckVilnius University Library

On some rare cases, examples of the brocade paper have a margin on the edge of the sheet indicating a manufacturer of the decorated paper. Thus, several dozen manufacturers of the brocade paper, mostly from Germany, have been identified. Such margins are an important discovery for the researchers of the history of the decorated paper.

This margin has a remaining, although hard to read inscription bearing the name of manufacturer from Augsburg Michael Munck: [MI]CHAEL MUNCK.

Strips of decorated paper (17th and 18th c.)Vilnius University Library

Even small fragments and scraps of decorated paper were successfully used for books. Quite often a spine of a book with a temporary (printer’s) binding – as later the book would be rebound in a bookbinder's workshop and hard covers applied – was covered in strips of various decorated papers.  

Gilt edges are a separate decoration technique. Nevertheless, it is quite close to gilt brocade paper. In the mid-18th century in his book on bookbinding Christoph Ernst Prediger gave some examples of patterns imprinted on the book edges.

Gilt book edges, 1683, From the collection of: Vilnius University Library
Book edge decoration technique, Christoph Ernst Prediger, c. 1744, From the collection of: Vilnius University Library
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Gold leafVilnius University Library

Tales of Decorated Paper. Ending notes

Handmade decorated paper – minor and at first sight ephemeral form of applied arts – shows vivid and creative play of imagination, manifesting itself through the arrangement of various motifs into elaborate ornaments created by both complex and simple means at hand. It was designed both in following the tradition and, at the same time, enriching it with new combinations and unexpected technological twists.

We hope that when coming back to the present day, in the patterns playing on the surfaces of everyday objects that surround us, we will detect reoccurrence of mesmerizing and eye-catching ornaments, traces of love to endless patterns, in one or another way linking us to the original images that are coming from the earliest times and distant countries.

Rain suminagashi (2021-06)Vilnius University Library

A suminagashi-like pine pollen mottle designed by summer rain and wind. Vilnius, June 2021

Tales of Decorated Paper is a five-part story.

<< The fourth part A Soft Footprint. Paste Paper

Credits: Story

Original idea and research by Ieva Rusteikaitė. Creators and contributors: Gediminas Auškalnis, Gediminas Bernotas, Kristina Gudavičienė, Nijolė Klingaitė-Dasevičienė, Raimondas Malaiška, Vida Steponavičienė, Marija Šaboršinaitė, Jonė Šulcaitė-Brollo.

For professional consultations and the attention given during the creation of this story we are grateful to our colleagues from the Manuscripts, Graphic Arts, Rare Books and Documental Heritage Preservation divisions of Vilnius University Library – Paulius Bagočiūnas, Monika Baublytė, Virgilija Guogienė, Linas Jablonskis, Valentina Karpova-Čelkienė, Sondra Rankelienė, Aušra Rinkūnaitė, Sigitas Tamulis, and Brigita Zorkienė.

We would like to express our special gratitude to the head of the VU Museum of Zoology, Dr Grita Skujienė, for her inspirational cooperation. The exhibits from the collection of zoologist, ornithologist Count Konstanty Tyzenhauz (1786–1853), kept in Vilnius University Museum of Zoology, conclude the second part of Tales of Decorated Paper.

Tales of Decorated Paper were enriched by three objects from earlier research in VU Library’s collections. The mottled gilt material cover of Filozof indyjski... (Warsaw, 1769) by Robert Dodsley and Mikołaj Rej was presented before in Bibliotheca Curiosa (Vilnius: Vilnius University Press, 2016) compiled by Sondra Rankelienė and Indrė Saudargienė. In addition, the publications from the collection Knygos menas (The Art of Book) compiled by Sondra Rankelienė, Aušra Rinkūnaitė, Guoda Gediminskaitė, Brigita Zorkienė, and Irena Katilienė published in the spring of 2020 – that is, Jacobus Wallius’ Poematum libri novem... (Nuremberg, 1737) and Joseph Penso de la Vega’s Rumbos peligrosos... (Antwerp, 1683) – have also joined the Tales where they – hopefully – revealed their significance. We are also grateful to Sondra Rankelienė for her suggestion of using [Onufry Kopczyński’s] GRAMATYKA DLA SZKOŁ NARODOWYCH NA KLASSĘ I (1780), whose jacket featuring the inventive use of coloured wallpaper we included in the first part of the Tales.

Tales of Decorated Paper were created in Vilnius University library – the oldest and largest academic library in Lithuania. The present-day library preserves over 5 million documents, with the oldest being over 8 centuries old. VU Library aims to spread the wealth of knowledge stored in its troves with the community and society.


“Brokatpapiersignaturen” in buntpapier.org http://www.buntpapier.org/brokatpapiersignaturen.html.

Doizy, Marie-Ange. De la dominoterie à la marbrure: histoire des techniques traditionnelles de la décoration du papier. Paris: Art & Métiers du Livre, 1996.

Krause, Susanne; Rinck Julia. Buntpapier - ein Bestimmungsbuch / Decorated Paper - A Guide Book / Sierpapier - Een gids. Stuttgart: Dr. Ernst Hauswedell & Co. KG, Verlag, 2016.

Marks, Philippa J. M. An Anthology of Decorated Papers. A Sourcebook for Designers. London: Thames & Hudson, 2016.  

Surdokaitė-Vitienė, Gabija. „Augalinis ornamentas XVIII a. audiniuose: kilmė, motyvai, mados“ in Aleksandravičiūtė, Aleksandra (sud.). Ornamentas: XVI - XX a. I p. paveldo tyrimai. Vilnius: Lietuvos kultūros tyrimų institutas, 2014.   

Veléz Celemín, Antonio. El Marmoleado. De papel de guardas a la obra de arte. Madrid: Ollero y Ramos, 2012.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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