Lead, one of the earliest metals known to humanity, has played a significant role in various aspects of European art, from the Medieval period through the 18th century. Its low melting point and malleability made it an ideal material for creating a wide array of objects, from pilgrim badges and mirrors to garden ornaments and furniture.

During the Medieval period, one of the most widespread uses was in the creation of pilgrim badges. These badges, often purchased as souvenirs at religious shrines, served as a physical testament to a pilgrim’s journey. Crafted from metal alloy, these badges depicted saints, religious scenes, or the emblems of specific shrines. Their affordability, thanks to the cheapness of lead, made them accessible to pilgrims of all economic backgrounds, contributing to the growth of a vibrant pilgrim culture.

Moving into the 17th and 18th centuries, the use of lead expanded to decorative arts and furniture. In Sweden, renowned mirror maker Burchard Precht utilised lead in his baroque creations. Known as Precht mirrors, these decorative pieces featured frames with intricate lead ornamentation. The malleability of lead allowed Precht to shape elaborate forms and details, enhancing the opulence of these mirrors and making them coveted possessions in noble households.

In the 18th century, the use extended to outdoor spaces in England and across Europe. Garden ornaments made of lead became popular as a way to bring art into the landscape. These included statues, vases, fountains, and even garden furniture. The resistance of lead to corrosion made it ideal for outdoor use, and its ease of shaping allowed artists to create intricate designs and forms. Lead ornaments adorned the gardens of both public estates and private residences, offering elegance and refinement.

Despite the toxicity of lead, which eventually led to its diminished use, its impact on the arts cannot be denied. From the simple pilgrim badges of the Medieval period to the elaborate mirrors and garden ornaments of later centuries, it has left an indelible mark on European art and continues to be appreciated for its historical and artistic value.


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