The Heart Motif

130px-Heart_corazón.svg.png

"We can hear the silent voice of the spiritual universe within our own hearts."

                                                                           Ruth St. Denis (Dancer 1878-1968)

A Brief History of the Heart Symbol

The familiar heart shape is an  almost universal symbol of love with deep historical roots. It is thought to have been originally inspired not only by the shape of the actual heart organ, but also by botanical forms such as the ivy and the fruit of the silphium. It is also thought to be a stylised depiction of a woman's curves. 

Ancient Greek pottery incorporated countless examples of the heart shape and it appeared in early religious art. The heart can be seen in the Istanbul Empress Zoe mosaic dating from 1239 and also in stucco reliefs and panels from Persian ruins dating from 90 BC to 637 AD. However, it was not thought to be a metaphor for love until at least 1250, when the earliest known example was shown in an illuminated manuscript.  

It wasn't until the 15th century, however, that it truly developed into the symbol of love that we know today. The heart symbol came to the forefront during the Renaissance. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the heart symbol exploded in popularity and became a prevalent Valentine's motif.  

Today, the heart shape is ubiquitous and never seems to decline in popularity or meaning. 

 The earliest known visual depiction of a heart symbol, as a lover hands his heart to the beloved lady, in a manuscript of the   Roman de la poire 'mid-13th century.

The earliest known visual depiction of a heart symbol, as a lover hands his heart to the beloved lady, in a manuscript of the Roman de la poire'mid-13th century.

 Ex Voto dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80), Italian School, 15th C | Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nimes, France | Bridgeman Images

Ex Voto dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80), Italian School, 15th C | Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nimes, France | Bridgeman Images

 Royal Banner of the Kings of Denmark (12th or 13th century). The heart shape was frequently used in heraldic designs. 

Royal Banner of the Kings of Denmark (12th or 13th century). The heart shape was frequently used in heraldic designs. 

 Heart pierced with cupid's arrow

Heart pierced with cupid's arrow

The Heart in Jewellery

During Georgian and Victorian times, the heart was often found in jewellery pieces given as sentimental gifts between family members, close friends and lovers. Heart shaped lockets containing sentimental keepsakes such as hair or miniature portraits were particularly popular. Beginning in the early 1800s, Irish Claddagh ring featured a heart clasped in two hands.  These rings came to be widely used to symbolise friendship and love and are worn as friendship, engagement and wedding rings to this day, particularly in Ireland.

As was typical of the Victorians, the heart motif had a nuanced meaning depending on its setting and design. For example, two hearts set alongside one another meant 'betrothed'. Sapphires were added to represent fidelity or rubies for passion. Diamonds symbolised enduring love. Many Victorian pieces used the heart symbol alongside other symbols, for examples snakes or birds.  If a flame was used, this represented passion or 'The Sacred Heart of Christ'.  Various flowers could be incorporated into the piece to convey the specific meaning accorded to each flower. 

An ever expressive array of pavé hearts, engraved hearts, hearts encrusted with gems or carved from them adorned the throats, ears, fingers, clothes, bonnets, hair and wrists of our fore-bearers and continued in popularity throughout the 20th century and to this very day. 

Below you will find some examples of beautiful heart pieces used in antique and vintage jewellery. 

 Cartier Diamond Pave Heart Pendant. Elder & Bloom  The diamond pave puffy heart by Cartier is an iconic design. 

Cartier Diamond Pave Heart Pendant. Elder & Bloom

The diamond pave puffy heart by Cartier is an iconic design. 

 Victorian Heart-Shaped Locket Pendant  The slightly domed heart-shaped pendant pavé set with graduated half pearls, glazed locket back displaying hairwork, mount engraved 'Robert George, Aug 26th 93', on half pearl set bale together with two belcher-link chain necklaces spaced with pearls, pendant length, including bale, 3.7cm. (3)  Source:  www.bonhams.com/auctions/18170/lot/191/

Victorian Heart-Shaped Locket Pendant

The slightly domed heart-shaped pendant pavé set with graduated half pearls, glazed locket back displaying hairwork, mount engraved 'Robert George, Aug 26th 93', on half pearl set bale together with two belcher-link chain necklaces spaced with pearls, pendant length, including bale, 3.7cm. (3)

Source: www.bonhams.com/auctions/18170/lot/191/

 A Diamond, Opal, Pearl, Ruby and Enamel Necklace  circa 1890:  Source:  www.bonhams.com/auctions/10791/lot/58/

A Diamond, Opal, Pearl, Ruby and Enamel Necklace

circa 1890:

Source: www.bonhams.com/auctions/10791/lot/58/

 Opal necklace circa 1900  Source Pinterest  (Christies auction)

Opal necklace circa 1900

Source Pinterest  (Christies auction)

 Made in 15ct gold at the start of the 1900’s, it is set with 6 drop opals with one superb heart shaped opal at the bottom, which is surrounded by 10 diamonds. With a further 8 diamonds along the chain, the diamonds total 0.86 carats, and match so well with the opals.   The entire length measures 38.5 cm, and this is a truly spectacular piece that will always be cherished.  Source: Kalmar:  www.kalmarantiques.com.au/product/antique-opal-and-diamond-necklace/

Made in 15ct gold at the start of the 1900’s, it is set with 6 drop opals with one superb heart shaped opal at the bottom, which is surrounded by 10 diamonds. With a further 8 diamonds along the chain, the diamonds total 0.86 carats, and match so well with the opals.

 The entire length measures 38.5 cm, and this is a truly spectacular piece that will always be cherished.

Source: Kalmar: www.kalmarantiques.com.au/product/antique-opal-and-diamond-necklace/

 An antique diamond brooch/pendant, circa 1900, designed as a stylized heart, the sinuous ribbons of old European-cut diamonds accented by similarly cut diamond-set foliate and floral motifs;     Source: www.bonhams.com/auctions/23415/lot/5/

An antique diamond brooch/pendant, circa 1900, designed as a stylized heart, the sinuous ribbons of old European-cut diamonds accented by similarly cut diamond-set foliate and floral motifs; 

Source: www.bonhams.com/auctions/23415/lot/5/

Further Reading:

Lockets

Symbolism in Victorian Jewellery

Pave

The Language of Flowers

The Language of Stones

The Language of Birds

Fede, Claddagh, Gimmel and Puzzle Rings

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Pippa Bear