Valentine’s Day visions of hearts, flowers, and …art.



Chocolate boxes, red roses, ribbons, laces and frills, doves and love birds, and pictures or models of Cupids are all things we associate with the heart icon these days. Usually either pink or red, it is the universal symbol of love the world over.


A very contemporary use of the heart shape by famous graffiti artist Banksy. Someone from the Middle Ages would probably still recognize the symbolism of the heart in this image.

  Painters and sculptors started using the symbol more frequently, without the previous association with leaves. Hearts were everywhere, from coats of arms to gravestones.


Aurora consurgens, St. Gallen 15th century (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms. Rhenoviensis 172, fol. 19v)


One of my favorite sculptors is American Pop artist sculptor Jeff Koons who had this sculpture featured as part of the exhibition Jeff Koons on the Roof

The meaning remained the same as with the ivy: love, fidelity, and bravery.


Henri Matisse “The heart”

The heart was a symbol of life in ancient Egypt, as well as the seat of the emotions and intellect. When the heart wearied the body died, and it was left in its place during embalming though all other organs were removed. A person’s true character was revealed in his or her heart, and so great care was taken to prevent it from rising up against the deceased.


Weighing of the heart by Anubis, detail from the Book of the Dead of Ani. Egypt, c. 1275 BC

Heart scarab amulets inscribed with the Book of the Dead were wrapped in bandages and placed on the body to prevent it from making an utterance. The meaning of the heart icon has changed little from medieval times to today. Making special appearances everywhere on February 14th, the shape still signifies love, in every variety. From its beginnings in cave art, the heart shape has survived to infiltrate text messages and neon signs, and to be one of the most recognized symbols on Earth. Probably the biggest event in the popularization of the heart symbol was during the 15th century.


In the detail from Philippe de Champaigne’s painting of the saint, Augustine holds a flaming heart, symbol of his ardent desire to unlock the mysteries of knowledge and wisdom.

 Perhaps you’ve loved and lost or you loathe the commercial aspects of a forced love holiday.

The good news is that it’s only one day out of the year.


PS.  I happy to share  Great little tweet from Twitter by @Kw33n5uzicus!

“Roses are red
Copy-pencil is blue
If you wash without testing,
You’re a naughty conservator, you.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!


About conservationwithella

Hello, I'm Ella, Art on Paper Conservator & Preservation Manager at Glasgow University Archives and Special Collections. This blog is a walk through my daily life, work, arts & crafts history, my discovery that everything in my life is enough to be a continuous source of reflection. I started blogging to entertain myself but I hope you enjoy it too. I'm sure you agree, that Life without art is nothing. :)

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