Grounds are layers or coats applied to the support to provide a suitable surface on which to paint or gild. Three important grounds in European and American painting are oil grounds, gesso grounds and emulsion grounds, though there are others (Massey, 1967). The ground fulfils some important functions. First, it buffers the surface decoration from the hygroscopic movements of the support, particularly important with wood. Secondly, it provides a smooth surface for painting or gilding and may itself be decorated with recutting or punch work. Thirdly, it gives a unified light colour against which the decoration is reflected and finally, the elasticity of the ground may permit burnishing of gold leaf applied to the surface. Different types of surface decoration require different grounds and these choices are determined by the intended use and cost. A traditional gesso ground, for example, is required for high quality water gilding, but oil gilding destined for an exterior location can be applied on a primer paint.
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