What is Patina?

Dr. Lori explains how the term Patina is misused.

Antique musical string instrument

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Art and antiques have their own vocabulary. Words like chinoserie, chiaroscuro, and period are all common to the expert appraiser or antiques collector.

Know the Vocabulary

One word is misused so regularly by so-called experts that it requires some explanation. Patina is a commonly misused term in the art and antiques world. It is usually incorrectly used to describe the appearance of an oily build-up or residue on the surface of stained wood furniture (chairs, tables, desks, etc.). It is often mistakenly used to describe the oily build up on wood. You often hear some TV show appraisers advise “Don’t strip the patina off that table top!” or “From the patina, I can tell that it is an American made mahogany chair from the 1800s.” This is not the correct way to use the word patina.

Correct Use of Patina

Patina is a process which relates to the application of color or pigment onto a work of cast metal sculpture. The patination process occurs at a cast metal foundry whereby pigment is applied to a metal sculpture to enhance the look of the metal. The term patina describes the application of color or a finish to a metal sculpture’s surface. It is not like slapping some paint on an old fence, it is a skilled method of pigment application.

Is this patina?Patination is applied to a surface, it is NOT a result of the aging process which occurs over time and it does not describe a state of condition on an antique either. The vocabulary of art history is important to know if you are trying to learn and understanding the discipline. Look for a consistent patina on your sculpture and you’ll find value too.