Sunday, February 8, 2015

Origin of the Heart as a Symbol of Love

Janalyn Voigt

 Roman de la poire by Atelier du Maître de Bari [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

In medical terms, the human heart operates as a pump to send blood through the body. Have you ever wondered how such an unglamorous organ became a simbol of romantic love? For the answer to that, we need to go all the way back to the 1250's. In the French manuscript, Roman de la poire (Romance of the Pear), a miniature (pictured above) a lover kneeling at the feet of a damsel ornamented a capital S. The title comes from a scene in which the heroine tempts her sweetheart with a pear, much as Eve tempts Adam with an apple. Her suitor's gaze is made into a character called Douz Regart, which means 'Sweet Looks.' The heart he holds In his hands might look a little strange to us today, but its pinecone shape aligns to medieval descriptions of the heart's composition.

How well is it going for him, do you think?
Andrea Pisano shows a bronzed Charity (c. 1337) offering her heart to Christ. The heart is held point-upward, in the same manner as the lover in the Roman de la poire miniature.
Charity offering her heart to Christ by Andrea Pisano | I, Sailko [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The indented heart with the point downward we are familiar with today appeared in the early 14th-century in works like Francesco da Barberino's Documenti d'amore (Documnt of Love) written between 1309 and1313 and in a manuscript from the Cistercian monastery in Brussels (MS 4459–70, fol 192v. Royal Library of Belgium).

The heart shape as we know it today existed in antiquity. In the Empress Zoe mosaic in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, pictured below, hearts decorate Jesus's Bible.
The Empress Zoe mosaics (11th-century) in Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey) Photographer: Myrabella
Christ Pantocrator is seated in the middle. On his right side stands emperor Constantine IX Monomachos; on his left side, empress Zoe.
Attempts have been made to connect the geometric heart shapes found in antiguity with the medieval symbol for romantic love, but no link has yet been discovered. Theories exist, but since they date from modern times, can only be viewed as speculative. However that may be, we can marvel that such a complex concept as romantic love can be so readily conveyed by a simple symbol.

About the Author

Escape into creative worlds of fiction with Janalyn Voigt. Her unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and fantasy creates worlds of beauty and danger for readers. Tales of Faeraven, her epic fantasy series that begins with DawnSinger, carries readers into a land only imagined in dreams. Janalyn is represented by Sarah Joy Freese of Wordserve Literary. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, Janalyn loves to discover worlds of adventure in the great outdoors.

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Sources and Further Reading


  1. Interesting post, Janalyn. Even though I'm a romance writer, I don't think I've ever stopped to think about the origin of the heart shape. It sure would be weird if Valentine's were kidney shaped. :)

    1. It's strange, when you think about it, that we equate the body's pump with emotion. The heart's central role in supplying blood to the body and the fact that it is vital to life casts light on that notion, though.

  2. Interesting what was thought to be the shape of a heart. Sm. wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com