This time of year, hearts are everywhere. The well-known symbol of Valentine’s Day floods us all. However, artists make use of the heart year round, and throughout history.
The popular icon for the heart can be traced all the way back to before the last Ice Age. Cro-Magnon hunters use the symbol in pictograms, although we can’t be sure what exactly it meant to them. The meaning of the symbol would become universal in the Middle Ages.
Berenguer, M., 1994: Prehistoric cave art in Northern Spain, Asturias, Cuidad de Mexico: Frente de Afirmacion Hispanista.
Historians think the modern symbol originated from the shape of the ivy leaf. Stylized, rounded leaves decorating vessels, urns, and tombstones portray eternal love. Inspired by the art and ornamentation of the early depictions, monastic illustrators painted images of Trees of Life bearing red, heart-shaped leaves. The green leaves became red for the color of warm blood, good luck, and health. The modern concept of the heart symbol was born.
Winged Nike with heart shaped vine leaves (cymation) and heart symbol in the top right-hand corner; Brescia Museum (Italy) 5th century B.C.
Floor mosaic, Villa Adriana near Tivoli (Italy), 120 A.D.
Heraldic heart-shaped leaves and tree. The minnesinger Heinrich von dem Vorste with his beloved mistress; Middle High German manuscript, 13th century
The symbol of the “playing-card heart” became universal as time passed, reaching numerous religions and cultures worldwide. Today’s symbol of the curved heart now encompasses a wide range of emotions and meanings.
At Last, My Love has Come Along by Elizabeth Robinson
At Last, My Love has Come Along by Elizabeth Robinson is titled after the song famously performed by jazz vocalist Etta James. Created with bright colors and bold patterns in the recognizable heart shape, the glass brings the music to life. You can almost hear the moody, vibrant sounds of jazz coming through the piece — the discordant clash of red and yellow along with slashes of black make you feel the dissonant chords that then melt and resolve into a whole piece of beautiful art that somehow flows together seamlessly.
I Carry Your Heart Necklace by Beth Taylor
The Robinson piece used the heart shape to represent the idea of love in music, and this necklace by Beth Taylor alludes to a well-known poem by e e cummings. The poem is one of my personal favorites, and I love the way this artist conveys the literary meaning by placing the words inside the different layers of the heart.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
– e e cummings
I imagine wearing this necklace as a representation of my husband and children — carrying them with me always. It could also stand as a symbol of remembrance for a loved one lost. Giving it as a gift would be a strong statement of love to the recipient.
Two Hearts in Hand by Cathy Broski
This sculpture by Cathy Broski is a piece that can truly mean something different to everyone who views it. Whether the hearts represent children, a couple, parents, or other loved ones — or whether the hand is our own, someone else’s, or something bigger — is open for interpretation.
Chatham Heart by Kerry Vesper
The open design of Chatham Heart by Kerry Vesper is a subtle, flowing take on the traditional heart shape. Originally commissioned by a cardiologist for installation in the Chatham Art Center, this artistic representation of the physical heart is a beautiful piece.
Artists use the symbol of the heart to represent abstract ideas, express love, or even to literally stand for the actual organ. The symbol of the heart is found everywhere. What does this symbol mean to you?