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12 golden objects to see up close

Gold ring at The Vyne, Hampshire
Gold ring | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Gold is a colour of reverence, an object of luxury, a symbol of wealth and power. From goldwork and gilding to goldsmithing and jewellery making, take a look at the ways in which gold has been used in objects in the collections we care for.

Golden threads 

Goldwork is the art of embroidery using precious metal threads. Discover examples of these golden threads in tapestries, silk dresses and extravagant outfits throughout the ages.

Tapestry, wool and silk sits on an elaborate golden throne
Wool and silk tapestry | © National Trust/Kate Lynch

Nebuchadnezzar's Dreamby

Gilt-metal thread is used in large quantities in this 17th-century tapestry from the collection at Knole, Kent, to enhance a scene from the book of Daniel. In this scene Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, dreams of a gigantic statue made of four metals, including a head of gold. The tapestry is thought to be the work of Thomas Poyntz.

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Gold leaf and gold ground items

Gold was a symbol of devotion and heavenly riches during the Renaissance. See how gold leaf and ground gold was used at this time to elevate portraiture and illuminate manuscripts, and even to create sumptuous wallpaper.

A MAN AND HIS WIFE by Master of the St Barbara Legend at Upton House
A Man and His Wife by Master of the Barbara Legend, 1470–1499 | © Angelo Hornak

A Man and His Wife

This 15th-century double portrait from the collection at Upton House, Warwickshire, shows a husband and wife in prayer. The generous use of gold leaf, which is created by beating gold into an extremely thin sheet, was used in sacred paintings to depict divine illumination. This portrait by Master of the St Barbara Legend can be found at Upton House.

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Gilded objects

Gilding in sculpture is achieved by applying a very thin coating of gold leaf to a solid substance. Discover gold gilded furniture, household items and grand sculptures designed to display wealth, status and achievement.

Giltwood sofa in the Drawing Room at Kedleston Hall
Giltwood sofa | © National Trust/Paul Barker

Golden sea nymph

Writing in 1765 about this magnificent John Linnell sofa with giltwood legs carved as figures of tritons and sea nymphs, the English architect Samuel Wyatt wrote 'it is certainly as elegant a piece of furniture as ever was made... The gilding is by far the best done of any I ever saw.' It was supplied for Nathaniel Curzon, Lord Scarsdale at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire.

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Significant gold

See precious items, with links to royalty, ancient civilisations and religion, including tsarist Russia and early Christianity.

Tipu's tiger head from the Clive Museum at Powis Castle, Wales
Tipu's tiger head from the Clive Museum at Powis Castle, Wales | © National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

The Tiger of Mysore

Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century ruler of Mysore in South India, was also known as the Tiger of Mysore. For this reason, tigers adorn many of his belongings including this gold finial, set with rubies, diamonds and emeralds. It was taken from his throne after the Siege of Seringapatam and given to Henrietta Clive by Arthur Wellesley, later the 1st Duke of Wellington. 

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See an 18th-century gilt table being restored

Thanks to generous support, a beautiful 18th-century gilt console table in Beningborough's collection in North Yorkshire has been returned to its former shining glory.

It took 240 hours of skilled craftsmanship to conserve the structure of the table and the marble top. The final aspects of gilding the gold took place in the saloon for visitors to see.

This video tells a rare behind-the-scenes conservation story.

Sevres Wine Cooler, showing nymphs worshipping the bust of Pan, from a service made for Louis XVI, dated 1792, in the Porcelain Lobby at Upton House, Warwickshire

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We care for one of the world's largest and most significant collections of art and heritage objects. Explore the highlights, our latest major exhibitions, curatorial research and more.

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