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Why Is The Heart A Symbol Of Love?

February signifies the month of romance and St. Valentine, and with that the proliferation of the heart motif far and wide. Maxwell – Scott’s content writer Holly explores why the heart has come to so instantaneously symbolise love…

heart symbol of love

The heart and the heart-symbol’s paths to becoming pictorial representations and synonyms for love are intertwined. From the very beginning, cultures have viewed the heart as the centre of emotions and the soul. The Ancient Egyptians for example believed that the heart was the moral compass, whereas Aristotle theorised that it was the heart that held all of the emotions and desires.

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But it is nature which presents the first examples of the heart-shape establishing its dominance. One of the more unusual theories revolves around the silphium plant which is suggested to have been used as a form of birth control. According to Slate, “The silphium was so important to Cyrene’s economy that coins were minted that depicted the plant’s seedpod, which looks like the heart shape we know today.” This link to desires of the heart may have been the first sparks to the heart-shape’s love connection. A theory in a similar vein centres around the ivy leaf. These natural heart forms are visible in artefacts from the ancient period and were possibly symbols at that time of fidelity. It seems clear though that, from the start, the heart-shape was emblematic of matters concerning our deepest emotions.

The Look Of Love…

Several centuries later the heart, and the heart-shape, were still linked to ideas surrounding love –  but as autopsies were not allowed by the church, what a heart actually looked like was still fairly unknown. Regarded as the first drawing of a more ‘realistic’ depiction of the human heart is in the French manuscript Le Roman De La Poire from circa 1255. The image in question depicts a man offering a heart to a woman as a declaration of his feelings. This began the long tradition of giving the heart to a beloved. Another example of which comes in the form the early fifteenth-century tapestry aptly named Le Don du Cœur. The couple are shown in a magical woodland with the man offering a small, red heart. It is one of the most popular representations of the medieval tradition of courtly love; rules which governed the behaviour of European aristocrats and could be found within other cultural pursuits such as literature and poetry.

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By the Sixteenth Century, a time when anatomical drawings of the heart were drawn by the likes of Da Vinci, the simplified image had already established itself. The symbol proliferated in religious art, as well as in the secular world such as in packs of cards.  For example the emblematic Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was associated with love and devotion, was envisioned by Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque in the Seventeenth Century. It thus became an essential symbol within Catholicism. Moreover this was also the century when in England, Valentine’s Day established its popularity and with it, the heart once again proved its inextricable link to love.

heart symbol of love

Moving a mere two centuries ahead, one of the most recent times in which the heart-shape solidified its immortality was the 1977 campaign for New York. The now iconic ‘I <3 NY’ slogan has meant that in modern language the symbol has now even become interchangeable with the word love itself. It is safe to say, that love has always binded us together, and through time, the heart and heart-shape have effortlessly come to be shorthand for this most complex of emotions.

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heart symbol of love

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