Skip to content

Collection items inspired by 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

Many of the places in our care have collection items which have been inspired by the emotional highs and lows of love. From paintings to ceramics and sculptures, find out more about the art and objects that have connections to romance.

Throughout history, artists and designers have been drawn to all areas of the romantic world – the tales of doomed lovers, the unrequited passion and the uplifting romances of true love are reflected in so many artworks, including a number from the collections we look after.

Tales of romance

A marble portrait head of Antinous, which probably belonged to a statue, facing forwards and with thick untidy hair.
Roman bust of Antinous at Petworth House, West Sussex | © National Trust/Andrew Fetherston

Ancient love

Antinous is known as the lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian. In AD 130, on an imperial tour of Egypt, Antinous drowned in the River Nile and Hadrian mourned and celebrated him on a massive scale. The Roman emperor founded a new city Antinoopolis, in his honour, and the lover's face was depicted on many sculptures, coins and busts, like this example at Petworth House in West Sussex.

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, the locket contains a portrait of the king and is engraved with the words, ‘Cvpid's dart posses yovr hart’.

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's 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 in Berkshire 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

Landscape with Antique Ruins and Figures by Pierre Patel
Landscape with Antique Ruins and Figures by Pierre Patel at Wallington, Northumberland | © National Trust Images

Romantic ruins

In the 18th century, as ancient sites were being rediscovered and reappraised, ruins that were both real and imaginary became a staple of landscape painting. A picture at Wallington in Northumberland by Pierre Patel the elder depicts classical ruins bathed in evening light, inviting spectators to reflect on transience and decay.

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, at Petworth House and Park, West Sussex | © 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, Kent | © 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.

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

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 imagination and emotional sensitivity.

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, discover the ways in which gold has been used in the objects in our 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 

The 13,000 oil paintings in our care are nearly all displayed in the houses of their historic owners. Learn about the stories behind a selection of the artworks and their owners.

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.