Picture Gallery of the Heart Symbol

The illustrations chronicle the metamorphosis over thousands of years from the green fig leaf to the red playing-card heart - the unique, world-wide symbol of love.
Originally simply an ornament in pottery and later vase painting, then found on frescos and mosaics in mid-Asia and Asia Minor, the vegetal symbol in the form of an ivy leaf in Grecian and Roman art and in the Mediterranean area attained an erotic meaning, of both physical and of everlasting love.
It is found on gravestones, in early Christian catacombs and churches and also in Carolingian book illustrations.
The definite transformation to the red heart of love took place in medieval book illustrations, especially in the literature of courtly love, in which the leaf-shaped heart with a stalk is used up to this day with the same meaning. The world-wide circulation of the heart symbol was increased by its adoption into the Sacred Heart Cult of the Catholic Church, by the inclusion in the deck of cards, its use as a water-mark in paper production and later in religious and secular art, in advertising and kitsch.
In the Middle Ages, in which medicine had a scholastic character, anatomists sometimes portrayed the heart in the form of a heart-shaped leaf.
Remarkably, the fig leaf also developed into the heart shape in Buddhism, although not as a sign of love, but of enlightenment.
In the pictographic writing system of the Aztecs the heart pierced with an arrow is similar to the western depiction.

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