Coronation of the Virgin, Italy, 15th century. Tempera and gold on panel, 76.2 x 55.9 cm. Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago, IL, the Martin D’Arcy, S.J., Collection, gift of Eileen O’Shaughnessy, 1985, 1985:03. Photograph by Clare Britt
Medieval Christian artworks were often embellished with gold leaf. In this panel painting from Italy, Christ places a crown on the head of his mother Mary, symbolizing her role as Queen of Heaven. Angels and other holy figures fill the heavenly space that is conveyed by the golden background. Much of the gold used in Italy came from West Africa through trans-Saharan trade routes. Beginning in the thirteenth century, Italian city-states such as Florence and Venice began minting gold coins largely made from West African gold. These coins were beaten into thin sheets of foil, which were then used as gold leaf. From one coin, craftsmen could make more than one hundred leaves.