Even though it is not yet Valentine’s Day, my mind was suddenly investigating the heart shape. It’s symbolic, iconic, adorable, and connective. My next thought was that the actual heart shape in our body is not like what we usually see. Then, how did this shape originate, and who did invent it? Back then, what did it mean? Come on, let’s find out!
The History of Heart Shape
A number of theories exist about the origin of the heart shape, but the most unusual one comes from a plant, Silphium, grown in North Africa, near Cyrene, and used both for culinary and medicinal purposes. The shape of silphium seeds and the fact that they specialize in compounding birth control made it a symbol of love and sex. That’s how the heart shape was born.
There is also evidence that the heart shape’s origin dates back to the writings of Galen and Aristotle, who described three chambers and a dent in the middle of the heart. Scientists and artists of the Middle Ages applied Aristotle’s heart shape description in ancient medical texts. In the 14th century, the Italian physicist Guido da Vigevano drew many anatomical scenes, including a heart that reflected Aristotle’s description quite closely. (Andrews, 2019)
The Connections of Heart Shape to European Arts and Philosophy
Love is one of the strongest emotions humans experience, according to Greek philosophers. Plato disagreed with that idea, stating that the heart was the dominant organ of the human body, involved in negative emotions, such as fear, anger and rage. But on top of that, Aristotle considered the heart as the source of all human processes.
In the 12th and 13th century, minstrels were known in France for celebrating a form of love they called “Fin’ amor”. It’s hard to put a name on fin ‘love, but consider it “courtly love”. Courtly love simply means that a man promises to love only one woman with all his heart. As a minstrel, he would sing to express his love for his loved one, as well as in front of the members of the court to which she belonged.
The heart icon with two lobes first appeared in 1344. It made its debut in Lambert le Tor’s manuscript titled “The Romance of Alexander”, written in the French dialect of Picardy. The heart image appears on the lower border of a page decorated with foliage, perched birds, and other elements typical of French and Flemish illumination.
The picture above shows a woman raising a heart that she received from the man facing her. He points to the place from which it came, while she accepts it. France exploded into heart imagery from this moment on.
Valentine’s Day is Much Older Than People Usually Think
By the mid-17th century, in England, Valentine’s Day was only celebrated by those who could afford its rituals. Men drew lots with the names of women on them, and the man who picked a woman’s name was obligated to give her a gift. The first love letters were handwritten lines on a piece of paper. Eventually, people polish their feelings by drawing and painting on the letters, sealing them with wax and leaving them at their intended doorstep.
The Transformation Into a Verb
The city of New York was in crisis in 1977; trash piled up on the streets, crime rates spiked, and the city nearly went bankrupt. The famous “I” logo was created by Milton Glaser
NY”. Glaser explained his artwork as beyond romantic love to embrace the realm of civic feelings and opened the gateway to new uses. (Yalom, 2019)
Today, love and heart icons are timeless symbols, and they have become the greatest delivery of human feelings for places, things, and even humans. Aside from love, there are adoration, love, romantic affair, etc. Which one is your favorite?