If you celebrate it, it’s almost that time of year partake with the masses in all things Valentine. Hearts today signify love, but that hasn’t always been the case. Without getting too graphical, the heart used to signify a woman’s particular sexual organ. As noted in Ancient brothel advert tells men “No money, no honey”, the heart symbol was commonly used to advertise a brothel location.
So fast-forward through the centuries a bit and you can find hearts with a more refined meaning: devotional love, affection, passion, and even heart-break. Some of the most beautiful art and illustrations range from manuscripts from the Middle Ages (e.g. the Roman de la poire) to modern-day art and illustrations (e.g. the work of Jim Dine, Andy Warhol and Banksy).
As noted in The changing symbolism of the heart shape through the ages, the greatest popularity of the heart began when this symbol was included on playing cards during the 15th century. Artists now used hearts everywhere. The more famous illustrations in Alice in Wonderland reference playing cards with the Queen of Hearts character. However, according to Lewis Carroll, her character depicts anything but love. Rather, she was a woman with an “ungovernable passion – a blind and aimless fury” (ref. Queen of Hearts).
Some illustrated children’s books that use hearts to convey love or loss of a loved one include: I Carry Your Heart With me, The Heart and the bottle and of course, Be My Valentine Charlie Brown.
Since medieval times, the meaning of the heart hasn’t really changed. So whether you partake (or not) in the amorous celebrations on February 14 – may your day be filled with love for a really good illustrated book.