Boasting an assortment of over 750,000 items, The National Trust Collections is one of the world’s largest and most significant holdings of art and heritage. From portraits to purses, tables to tapestries, here’s a selection of 12 of the finest treasures that the National Trust Collections has to date.
1. Knight with the Arms of Jean de Daillon
Originally part of a set twenty times the size, this detailed tapestry depicting a knight in shining armour is the earliest tapestry in National Trust care. Governor of Dauphiné Jean de Daillon commissioned the tapestry from 1477-9. So much information is known about its origin that it is an especially remarkable record of Netherlandish manufacturing. There are no other surviving examples of 15th century Netherlandish tapestries representing a lone knight on horseback.
2. The Nuremberg Chronicle
The Nuremberg Chronicle is significant not only for its contents but for what it represents: a symbol of a demand for information about the world and an appetite for reading words in print. Published in 1493, the book contains information about the known cities in Europe and the Middle East, including Jerusalem. A particularly chilling page depicts a ‘dance of death’, a common scene which reflects on human mortality.
3. Cardinal Wolsey’s Purse
This early 16th century purse likely belonged to one of the most powerful men in King Henry VIII’s court, Cardinal Wolsey. This purse would have been used to store precious personal items such as gaming pieces, keys, seal rings, and documents as well as coins. The front of the silk, leather, and silver purse depicts Roman Catholic imagery, while the inner clasp bears Wolsey’s name.
4. Lacock Table
This unusual octagonal stone table provides a glimpse of the inventive style of fashionable Tudor interiors. Installed at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire between 1542-1553, the table was commissioned by Sir William Sharington for a small room within an octagonal stone tower which was likely built to safeguard his treasured collections and curiosities. The decorative crouching satyrs with fruit baskets on their head demonstrate an Italian and French Renaissance design influence.
5. Molyneux Globe
The Molyneux Globe is the first English globe and only surviving example of the first edition. At a time when a nation’s power was greatly determined by trade, maritime navigation, foreign policy, and warfare, a complete and detailed globe represented a nation which was a celebrated maritime power. Decorated with terrifying sea monsters and an African elephant, the globe also charts the circumnavigation of the world by Sir Francis Drake and a similar attempt by Thomas Cavendish.
6. Elizabeth I Portrait
This portrait of Elizabeth I was likely commissioned by Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury as a mark and display of her friendship with the monarch. It depicts the queen as a timeless beauty. Painted by an English artist when the queen was in her sixties, the ornate dress decorated with pearls, flowers, land, and sea creatures is likely not an exaggeration: Elizabeth was known to be ‘most gorgeously apparelled’.
7. Rubens Painting
Painted in Genoa in Italy in around 1607, this stunning portrait is one of highly influential Baroque artist Rubens’ best works. Known for his innovative, theatrical style which provided a strong sense of dramatic narrative, the painting likely depicts noblewoman Marchesa Maria Grimaldi alongside her attendant. The painting is emblematic of the demand for Rubens who positively transformed the style and sheer ambition of European painting in the early 17th century.
8. The Spangled Bed
The crimson satin, silver cloth, silver embroidery, and tens of thousands of sequins (or ‘spangles’) which characterise this bed were designed to dazzle. Made in 1621 for Anne Cranfield, wife of a courtier to James I, the four-poster bed was intended to impress guests at her home in London before and after the birth of her son James.
It was part of a set which included a cradle, chairs, and stools which were adorned with the same decoration. It seems to have worked: James I became godfather to the couple’s child.
9. Petworth Van Dycks
As perhaps the most highly acclaimed and influential artist of the 17th century, this pair of unusual and striking paintings by Van Dyck is emblematic of his skill with portraits and narrative scenes. The Petworth Van Dycks, which depict Englishman Sir Robert Shirley and his wife Lady Teresia Sampsonia, are no exception. Painted in Rome in 1622, the sitters’ Persian clothes reflect Robert Shirley’s career as an adventurer and role as ambassador to the Persian shah Abbas the Great.
10. Knole Sofa
Made sometime between 1635-40, The Knole Sofa is one of the earliest surviving examples of an upholstered couch. Indeed, the word ‘saffaw’ was first used in the 1600s, and is now used widely as the modernised ‘sofa’. The crimson-velvet covered sofa was influenced by furniture from Italy and France, and was part of a grand suite of furniture that included 2 other sofas, 6 chairs, and 8 stools intended for use in Stuart royal palaces.
11. Embroidered Box
This late 17th century box was made by a young woman called Hannah Trapham who likely lived in or near Canterbury or Kent. Though little else is known about its creator, the box would once have held personal items such as bottles, and at one time, a mirror. There was even a space for a secret drawer. As was typical for the period, the skilled needlework depicts animals, flowers and fruit, and various biblical scenes.
12. Flower Pyramid
This late 17th century ceramic vase is marked with the letters ‘AK’ for the maker Adrianus Knox, owner of the leading late 17th century Delft pottery called De Grieksche A. The style is typical of ‘Dutch Delft’, which was tin-glazed earthenware decorated by hand in blue on a white background.
Vases like these with their many spouts filled fireplaces during the summer, with extravagant displays purposefully contrasting with flower-piece paintings of desirable and sometimes newly-imported plants.