Skip to content

Collection items inspired by romance

after Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) from the Print Room at Blickling Hall, Norfolk
Cupid after Angelica Kauffman | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Throughout history artists have been drawn to the emotional highs and lows of love, inspired by tragic tales of doomed lovers and unrequited passion, and uplifting romances of all-conquering true love. Step into this intoxicating world with a selection of objects found at places we look after that are inspired by love.

Tales of romance

Love among the Ruins by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
Love among the Ruins by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones | © National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Love among the ruins

The title of this painting by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833–1898) at Wightwick Manor in the West Midlands was taken from an 1855 poem by Robert Browning, but it is not a direct illustration of the text. Instead it possibly depicts Poliphilo and Polia, characters in an early Venetian romance called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

1 of 3

Tokens of love

From a king to his mistress

Legend has it that a silver, heart-shaped locket at Moseley Old Hall in Staffordshire was a present from Charles II to one of his mistresses. Dating to around 1660, it bears a portrait of the king and is engraved with the words, ‘Cvpid's dart posses yovr hart’. Charles hid in a priest hole at the hall in 1651 after his defeat at the battle of Worcester.

A mother's gift

An anthology of Italian poetry at Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent was a gift to Vita Sackville-West from her mother, Victoria in 1911. The ornate leather binding features heart decorations and inside there is a heart-shaped leather label with an inscription from mother to daughter. It is one of several beautifully bound books given to Vita by her mother.

A sailor's valentine

A colourful mosaic of intricately arranged seashells at Basildon Park is a charming example of a sailor's valentine. Made primarily by women in Barbados in the 19th century, these souvenirs were sold to British and American sailors as last-minute mementoes to take home after long journeys at sea.

Visions of romance

Detail of the highly decorated ceiling of the Boudoir, attributed to Louis-Andre Delabriere at Attingham Park, Shropshire
Decorated ceiling of the Boudoir at Attingham Park, Shropshire | © National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Wrapped in love

With its pastel shades and delicate decoration, the boudoir at Attingham Park in Shropshire is the embodiment of femininity and romance. A series of roundels, attributed to French artist Louis-André Delabrière and depicting scenes on the theme of love, adorn the elaborate domed ceiling.

1 of 3


Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that shifted away from the Enlightenment’s focus on reason and instead emphasised the importance of emotion and imagination. In Romantic art, nature, with its uncontrollable power, unpredictability, and potential for cataclysmic extremes offered an alternative to the ordered world of Enlightenment thought.

Storm and Avalanche by Philip James de Loutherbourg at Petworth House in West Sussex embodies this approach. It depicts a fast-moving avalanche and captures the vulnerability of humans caught in the throes of nature.

See the full painting

The Storm and Avalanche painting by Philip James de Loutherbourg
Storm and Avalanche by Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1804. Petworth House and Park | © National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Love across the divide

Anne 'Nanette' Hawkins

Known as the isolated baronet, Sir Harry Harpur of Calke Abbey in Derbyshire was painfully shy, shutting himself off from society and even giving his servants orders by letter. He found happiness in 1792, marrying Nanette Hawkins, but as she was a lady’s maid and not a member of the aristocracy the marriage caused a scandal. A watercolour of Nanette is in the collection at Calke Abbey.

See Nanette's portrait

Life size off-white plaster sculpture of Giovanna Zanerini, 'La Baccelli' the dancer and mistress of the 3rd Duke of Dorset, reclining on drapery at Knole in Kent.
Plaster sculpture of Giovanna Zanerini, 'La Baccelli' at Knole | © National Trust Images/Jane Mucklow

La Baccelli

When Italian dancer Giovanna Zanerini, nicknamed La Baccelli, became lover to John Frederick Sackville, the third Duke of Dorset, he had a life-size plaster statue made of her. After the pair separated and John married, the statue was discretely moved to a less prominent position at Knole in Kent, and rechristened A Naked Venus.

A group of Delftware urns at Dyrham Park, Bristol and Bath

Art and collections

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.

You might also be interested in

The doll's house in the Treasure Room at Hill Top, Cumbria, home of Beatrix Potter

Where to find the best dolls' houses 

From 18th-century mini palaces to entire model villages, discover where to find rare and exquisite dolls’ houses in the National Trust’s collection here.

Monument and Boat House at Petworth House and Park, West Sussex

What is Romanticism? 

Learn how the Romantic movement, led by poets and artists such as Byron and J.M.W. Turner, broke with the Enlightenment’s teachings to celebrate emotional sensitivity over reason.

Italian marble sculpture, An Athlete (after Polykleitos and restored by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi), Roman, early 2nd century AD, marble copy of a bronze original attributed to Polykleitos. The full-length youth stands resting his left leg against a tree trunk, his right hand raised to his shoulder holds an aryballos from which he pours oil into his left hand lying horizontally halfway across his body

Sporting history in our collections  

The places and collections in our care are rich with different sporting cultures. Find celebratory sports-themed sculptures and paintings, sportswear through the ages and historic sporting equipment.

Gold ring at The Vyne, Hampshire

12 golden objects to see up close 

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 National Trust’s collections.

Knight with the Arms of Jean de Daillon Tapestry, Montacute House

Great tapestries to see up close 

We look after the largest collection of tapestries in Britain and one of the largest in the world. Discover some examples of this outstanding craftmanship at the places in our care.

Oil painting on panel of a Young Girl holding a Chaffinch

Highlights from 100 paintings in the collections we care for 

100 Paintings from the Collections of the National Trust showcases works by some of the most renowned European artists of all time, cared for by the Trust and housed in its properties.

A composite image showing two dummy boards beside a fireplace at Trerice, Cornwall

Exploring the history of dummy boards 

Dummy boards, also called silent companions, are life-size, flat, wooden figures. Find out why they were popular in the 17th century and where you can see them at the places we care for.

A detailed trompe l'oeil painting of statues of the four Doctors of the Church on the north wall of the Chapel at Wimpole Hall

The art of illusion in historic houses 

Learn about some of the misleading objects, paintings and architectural features in the historic houses we look after, and discover the truth behind these optical illusions.