Coronation of the Virgin, English, ca. 1480. Gold and silk thread on linen, 29.5 x 32.4 cm. Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago, IL, the Martin D’Arcy, S.J., Collection, gift of D.F. Rowe, S.J., in memory of Mrs. Mary Flannery, 1976:01. Photograph by Clare Britt
This densely embroidered textile fragment depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, a popular Christian story of the period, was likely once part of a vestment, or ceremonial robe. While documents of the period suggest that luxurious embroidered garments were worn by the elite, the majority of surviving embroideries were made for use in the church. Generous amounts of gold thread are incorporated into the scene. Despite the discovery of gold deposits in Europe in the later Middle Ages, West African gold continued to be highly prized for its quality and purity. A mid-seventeenth-century shipwreck offers compelling evidence for the export of West African gold to England. The ship sank off the coast of Devon, England, carrying scraps of gold jewelry, ingots, and more than 400 gold coins, most of them minted in Morocco between the eleventh and seventeenth century.