The art of romance: objects of affection in our collection

Throughout history, countless artists have been drawn to the emotional highs and lows of love, inspired by tragic tales of doomed lovers and unrequited passion or uplifting romances of all-conquering true love. Step into this intoxicating world through this selection of objects in our collections inspired by love.

Tales of romance

Love among the Ruins by Burne Jones

'Love among the ruins'

The title of this painting by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833–1898) at Wightwick Manor, 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, the ‘Hypnerotomachia Poliphili’.

Early 18th C. Chinese porcelain blue and white globular teapot

A Chinese romance

This Chinese porcelain teapot at Erddig, Wrexham, shows an episode from the play ‘The Romance of the Western Chamber’. The story is of Zhang Sheng, a poor scholar, and Cui Yingying, the daughter of the Prime Minister, who fell in love without their families’ approval. This scene shows Yingying in a garden at night waiting for her lover.

The Tale of Sir Degrevaunt: The Wedding Ceremony by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

Chivalric love

This is one of three frescoes at Red House, London, illustrating the 'Tale of Sir Degrevaunt' by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. In this 15th-century English romance, a chivalrous knight falls in love with the daughter of an earl with whom he is in conflict. Marrying against the odds, their wedding procession is depicted here in tempera and gold.

Tokens of love

A silver heart-shaped locket,

From a king to his mistress

Legend has it this silver, heart-shaped locket 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 'Cvpid's dart posses yovr hart'. The locket is in the collection at Moselely Old Hall, Staffordshire, where, in 1651, Charles hid in a priest hole after his defeat at the battle of Worcester.

The Oxford Book of Italian Verse

A mother's gift

This anthology of Italian poetry was a gift to Vita Sackville-West from her mother, Victoria in 1911. The ornate leather binding features heart decorations; 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, and held in the extensive book collection at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent.

Sailor's valentine, Basildon Park

A sailor's valentine

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

Enduring love

Visions of romance

Detail of the highly decorated ceiling of the Boudoir, attributed to Louis-Andre Delabriere

Wrapped in love

With its pastel shades and delicate decoration, the boudoir at Attingham Park, 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.

Landscape with antique ruins and figures after Pierre Patel the elder

Romantic ruins

In the 18th century, as ancient sites were being rediscovered and reappraised, ruins - both real and imaginary - became a staple of landscape painting. This picture, after Pierre Patel the elder, depicts classical ruins bathed in evening light, inviting spectators to reflect on transience and decay. Visit Wallington in Northumberland to see this Romantic interpretation of the past.

The State Bed in the State Bedchamber at Osterley Park, Middlesex

A temple to Venus

This sumptuous bed in the state bedroom at Osterley Park, London, is the work of architect and interior designer Robert Adam (1728-1792). Lavishly carved, partly gilded and festooned with rich drapery, the design was conceived as a temple of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty.

Storm and avalanche by Philip James de Loutherbourg


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. In this painting of a fast-moving avalanche, Philip James de Loutherbourg captures the vulnerability of humans caught in the throes of nature. This picture hangs at Petworth House, West Sussex.

Forbidden passion and doomed lovers

" 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), Poet Laureate

Love across the divide

Anne 'Nanette' Hawkins, Lady Crewe

Anne 'Nanette' Hawkins

Known as the ‘isolated baronet’, Sir Harry Harpur of Calke Abbey, 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, pictured here, but as she was a lady’s maid and not a member of the aristocracy, the marriage caused a scandal.

plaster sculpture of Mme Giannetta Baccelli

La Baccelli

When Italian dancer Giovanna Zanerini, nicknamed 'La Baccelli', became lover to John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, he had this 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, Kent, and rechristened 'A Naked Venus’.

George Harry Grey, 7th Earl of Stamford

George Harry Grey

When George Harry Grey of Dunham Massey, Cheshire, became 7th Earl of Stamford in 1845 he was one of the wealthiest men in the country. When it came to marriage, George followed his heart. Defying the social conventions of the time, he married first the daughter of a shoemaker and then a one-time circus performer.