When fanning the flames of passion, the one day to get it right is Valentine's Day, a red letter date in the romance department and one that keeps florists, jewelers, chocolatiers and suitors hopping.

But what about that intangible ingredient, the one that will strike the heart of your beloved front and center to ignite undying devotion?

Can inspiration be found in a poem, a painting or a pair of nesting birds? To find out, we sought five romantic favorites from the pros at the Public Library, the Cincinnati Art Museum and yes, The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. After all, it was referred to as the "sexiest zoo in America" and has its own Wild Side of Love Program, Feb. 11.

"”Joy W. Kraft


Art of the Heart
Julie Aronson, curator of American painting, sculpture and drawings at the Art Museum has found romance in unexpected places.
 
"The Approach of Love"
Oil by Kenyon Cox (1856-1919)
It is as much the richness of color that makes this painting sensuous as the lovely nude figure of Venus asleep on a stone bench. The bench blocks the vista of the landscape, creating a shallow composition that pushes the action up to the foreground. Cupid stealthily crawls up onto the bench to shoot Venus with his bow and arrow.

"Bacchant and Bacchante with a Cupid"
Terracotta by Clodion (1738-1814)
This mythological couple is enmeshed in a passionate embrace after partaking of wine, the empty pitcher beneath Bacchus's foot. Like a neglected child, pudgy Cupid reaches up to Bacchante and meets her gaze. The sensuality of the composition with its twisting of beautiful muscular bodies is enhanced by the exquisite rendering of the textures of flesh, drapery and animal hide.
 
"Elizabeth Boott Duveneck"
Oil by Frank Duveneck (1848-1919)
The romance between Duveneck and his beloved "Lizzie" is the great love story of the collection. An artist in her own right, she fell in love with her instructor. Against her father's objections (Duveneck was not sufficiently cultured), she agreed to marry after a six-year engagement. The wedded bliss was short-lived and ended tragically when she died of pneumonia just two years later. In this wistful portrait of 1888 shortly before her death, he depicted his wife in her wedding dress.

"Double Portrait of the Artist's Parents"
Watercolor by William John Whittemore (1860"”1955)
There is nothing as romantic as the love between people who have been together for decades. This work is especially intimate, as the couple appears together in a painting that is only about 2-by-3 inches. Whittemore painted this double portrait of his parents when they had been married for 53 years. Through the eyes of their son, we have an affectionate glimpse of a complex relationship.
 
"Eye Miniature"
Watercolor on ivory, English School, 19th century
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, eye miniatures or "lovers' eyes," were a popular form of intimate exchange, as the eye was said to be the "window to the soul." Portrait miniatures were designed for private viewing and to be worn close to the body. As these tiny, mysterious paintings of eyes were fragmentary portraits, they could be exchanged between lovers without fear of public exposure.

 
Animal Magnetism
The fascinating vagaries of courtship make the zoo's Feb. 11 Wild Side of Love program so popular. Sarah Navarro, education coordinator, shares her "most romantic" couples...
 

The Red Crowned Cranes, over 5 feet tall, perform a synchronized back-and-forth spring mating dance, bowing, prancing around stiff-legged, leaping, tossing twigs and feathers in the air and poking at them as they flutter down. Mating for life, they sing in unison, and their posturing "is yoga-like" says Navarro. They build a nest together, share incubating, and after hatching, walk around with the baby between them.
 
Gibbons get the nod as Navarro's most romantic wildlife duo. And anyone who has visited the zoo can hear them screeching as they fly around Gibbon Island. But they are not just being noisy. Called "lesser apes" because of their size, they form a monogamous bond (fewer than 6 percent of all primate species do that), and all that high-pitched screaming is actually a duet. "They sing every morning; the female often starts it, but the male always has the last word," says Navarro. It re-establishes their bond and territory boundaries. "I see us in them more than other species," she says.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Pen Meets Passion in the Stacks
 Librarians choose sonnets, romance and clever musings.
 
"The Quiver of Love: A Collection of Valentines Ancient and Modern"
With drawings by Walter Crane and K. Greenaway
The book of love poetry and sonnets from 1876 is Diane Mallstrom's pick and has striking color plates of beautiful girls in bucolic settings. Although it is quite worn, the colors remain vibrant. It contains the classic Elizabeth Barrett Browning "How do I love thee?" poem. (Located in the Cincinnati Room of the main library, downtown).
 
"Rebecca"
By Daphne Du Maurier, 1938
"This romance classic blurs the lines of fantasy and reality so completely that the reader doesn't know the difference between euphoria and merciless torture," says Melanie Adolphson. "Du Maurier unravels the fusion of souls with painstaking deft so as to make pain and pleasure one . . . in this novel at its most exquisite best."

"The Princess Bride:" S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
By William Goldman, 1973
This charming fantasy classic that inspired the popular film is full of all the adventure, fighting, humor and love that makes reading fun. "A must read for all ages . . . unless you are scared of giant rats," says Whitney Smith.
 
"Advice to a Young Man in Choosing a Mistress"
By Gabrielle Fox, 1982
"This heart-shaped miniature artist's book that fits in the palm of one's hand feels like it will reveal a love secret when opened," says Jeanne Strauss DeGroote. As always with artists' books, there is a continuum between the form, a small heart and the content: a famous letter written by Benjamin Franklin in 1745 in which he argues that marriage is the best remedy for a young man challenged by sexual urges. (Located in the Cincinnati Room).