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The heart symbol or "heart shape" (♥) is an ideograph used to express the idea of the "heart" in its metaphorical or symbolic sense as the center of emotion, including affection and love, especially (but not exclusively) romantic love.
The "wounded heart" indicating love sickness came to be depicted as a heart symbol pierced with an arrow (Cupid's), or heart symbol "broken" in two or more pieces. The use of the heart symbol as a logograph for the English verb "to love" derives from the use in "I ♥ NY", introduced in 1977.
The combination of the "heart shape" and its use within the "heart" metaphor developed at the end of the Middle Ages. With possible early examples or direct predecessors in the 13th to 14th century, the familiar symbol of the heart representing love developed in the 15th century, and became widely popular in the 16th. Before the 14th century, the "heart shape" was not associated with the meaning of the "heart" metaphor. The geometric shape itself is found in much earlier sources, but in such instances does not depict a "heart", but typically foliage, in examples from antiquity fig leaves, and in medieval iconography and heraldry typically the leaves of ivy and of the water-lily.
The first known depiction of a heart as a symbol of romantic love dates to the 1250s. It occurs in a miniature decorating a capital S in a manuscript of the French Roman de la poire (National Library FR MS. 2086, plate 12). In the miniature, a kneeling lover (or more precisely, an allegory of the lover's "sweet gaze" or douz regart) offers his heart to a damsel. The heart here resembles a pine-cone (held "upside-down", the point facing downward), in accord with medieval anatomical descriptions. Giotto in his 1305 painting in the Scrovegni Chapel (Padua) shows an allegory of charity handing her heart to Christ, and this heart is depicted in the pine-cone shape based on anatomical descriptions (still held "upside-down"). Giotto's painting exerted considerable influence on later painters, and the motive of Caritas offering a heart is shown by Taddeo Gaddi in Santa Croce, by Andrea Pisano on the bronze door of the south porch of the Baptisterium in Florence (c. 1337), by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Publico in Sienna (c. 1340) and by Andrea da Firenze in Santa Maria Novella in Florence (c. 1365). The convention of showing the heart point-upward switches in the late 14th century and becomes rare in the first half of the 15th century.
The "scalloped" shape of the now-familiar heart symbol, with a dent in its base, first arises in the early 14th century, at first only lightly dented, as in the miniatures in Francesco Barberino's Documenti d'amore (before 1320); a slightly later example with a more pronounced dent is found in a manuscript from the Cistercian monastery in Brussels (MS 4459–70, fol 192v. Royal Library of Belgium). The convention of showing a dent at the base of the heart thus spread at about the same time as the convention of showing the heart with its point downward. The modern indented red heart has been used on playing cards since the late 15th century.
Various hypotheses attempted to connect the "heart shape" as it evolved in the late medieval period with instances of the geometric shape in antiquity. Such theories are modern, proposed from the 1960s onward, and they remain speculative, as no continuity between the supposed ancient predecessors and the late medieval tradition can be shown. Specific suggestions include: the shape of the seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive, and stylized depictions of features of the human female body, such as the female's buttocks, pubic mound, or spread vulva.
The Luther rose was the seal that was designed for Martin Luther at the behest of Prince John Frederick, in 1530, while Luther was staying at the Coburg Fortress during the Diet of Augsburg. Luther wrote gave an explanation of the symbol to Lazarus Spengler: "a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. 'For one who believes from the heart will be justified' (Romans 10:10)."
The aorta remains visible, as a protrusion at the top centered between the two "chambers" indicated in the symbol, in some depictions of the Sacred Heart well into the 18th century, and is partly still shown today (although mostly obscured by elements such as a crown, flames, rays, or a cross) but the "hearts" suit did not have this element since the 15th century.
The heart symbol reached Japan with the Nanban trade of 1543 to 1614, as evidenced by an Edo period Samurai helmet (dated c. 1630), which includes both the rounded and indented forms of the heart symbol, representing the heart of Marishiten, goddess of archers.
The Luther rose, 1706 print after the 1530 design.
The Danish "Heart Book", a heart-shaped manuscript of love ballads from the 1550s.
Leaden heart of Raesfeld chapel (funerary casket containing the heart of Christoph Otto von Velen, d. 1733)
Heart symbols were used to symbolize "health" or "lives" in video games; influentially so in The Legend of Zelda (1986). Super Mario Bros. 2 (1985) did have a "life bar" composed of hexagons, but in 1990s remakes of this games, the hexagons were replaced by heart shapes. Since the 1990s, the heart symbol has also been used as an ideogram indicating "health" outside of the video gaming context, e.g. used by restaurants to indicate "heart-healthy" nutrient content claim (e.g. "low in cholesterol"). A copyrighted "heart-check" symbol to indicate healthy food was introduced by the American Heart Association in 1995.
Two burning hearts, coloured pink, illustration on a Victorian-era Valentine's Day card.
A "Vinegar Valentine" card from the 1870s, with a red heart symbol pierced by six arrows.
The earliest "heart-shaped" charges in heraldry appear in the 12th century; the hearts in the coat of arms of Denmark go back to the royal banner of the kings of Denmark, in turn based on a seal used as early as the 1190s. However, while the charges are clearly "heart-shaped", they did not in origin depict hearts, or symbolize any idea related to "love". Instead, they are assumed to have depicted the leaves of the water-lily. Early heraldic "heart-shaped" charges depicting the leaves of waterlilies are found in various other designs related to territories close to rivers or a coastline (c.f. Flags of Frisia).
A seal attributed to William, Lord of Douglas (of 1333) shows a heart shape, identified as the heart of Robert the Bruce. The authenticity of this seal is "very questionable", i.e. it could possibly date to the late 14th or the 15th century.
Heraldic charges actually representing hearts become more common in the early modern period, with the Sacred Heart depicted in ecclesiastical heraldry, and hearts representing love in bourgeois coats of arms. Hearts later also become popular elements in municipal coats of arms.
14th-century fresco showing Valdemar IV of Denmark. Here the Danish coat of arms is shown without the water-lily leaves ("hearts"), but they are shown on the king's surcoat and on the crest drawn above his shield.
The Sacred Heart in the episcopal coat of arms of Ivan Ljavinec, Apostolic Exarch of the Apostolic Exarchate in the Czech Republic from 1996 to 2003.
|Glyph||Description||HTML code||Alt codes|
|♡||U+2661 WHITE HEART SUIT|
|♥||U+2665 BLACK HEART SUIT||Alt + 3|
|❤||U+2764 HEAVY BLACK HEART|
|❥||U+2765 ROTATED HEAVY BLACK HEART BULLET|
|❣||U+2763 HEAVY HEART EXCLAMATION MARK ORNAMENT|
|Glyph||Description||HTML code||Alt codes|
|💑||U+1F491 COUPLE WITH HEART|
|💓||U+1F493 BEATING HEART|
|💔||U+1F494 BROKEN HEART|
|💕||U+1F495 TWO HEARTS|
|💖||U+1F496 SPARKLING HEART|
|💗||U+1F497 GROWING HEART|
|💘||U+1F498 HEART WITH ARROW|
|💙||U+1F499 BLUE HEART|
|💚||U+1F49A GREEN HEART|
|💛||U+1F49B YELLOW HEART|
|💜||U+1F49C PURPLE HEART|
In Code page 437, the original character set of the IBM PC, the value of 3 (hexadecimal 03) represents the heart symbol. This value is shared with the non-printing ETX control character, which overrides the glyph in many contexts.
A number of parametrisations of approximately heart-shaped curves have been described. The best-known of these is the cardioid, which is an epicycloid with one cusp. Other curves, such as the implicit curve (x2+y2−1)3−x2y3=0, may produce better approximations of the heart shape.
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