Gold-ground paintings became popular in Italy in the 13th century. A gold background symbolized the light of Heaven, so was common for Christian devotional images like this panel painting of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. Hammered to paper thinness, gold leaf was adhered to the panel with reddish clay (bole)—you can see it where some of the gold has rubbed away. It was then “punched” with tools to create designs, such as the detail in the halos. Powdered gold (even more expensive than gold leaf) was used to paint the detail on Mary’s robe and cloak.