Nun’s badge

An 18th century Colonial School escudo de monja or nun’s badge, £7500 at TW Gaze.

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Pictorial medallions such as this depicting the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception were worn across the chest by Conceptionist and Jeronymite nuns in Mexico on important religious feasts. They became fashionable in convents in Spain and ‘New Spain’ after ecclesiastic laws were imposed restricting other forms of personal adornment.

Most belong to the tradition of European miniatures, with this Mexican example fashioned in oil on copper in a frame of tortoiseshell and silver. It measures 8in (21cm). A similar example is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This particular escudo is remarkable for its very feminine telling of a biblical allegory. The scene of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception includes only one male figure (the good shepherd) with the other figures (the good shepherd and women harvesting flowers) all female.

Marcus Burke, senior curator at the Hispanic Society of America, has discussed the emergence of a feminist culture in colonial Mexico. In his book Mexico, Thirty Years of Splendor he writes: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Mexican society in the late 17th and 18th centuries was the development of what can only be called a feminist cult in many urban orders of nuns.”

The badge came for sale in Norfolk on December 7 with an estimate of £2000-3000 from a local private collection. Researched by TW Gaze, it sold at £7500 (plus 20% buyer’s premium) to a Spanish bidder.