Olivia: Where lies your text?
Viola: In Orsino’s bosom.
Olivia: In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom?
Viola: To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.
(Shakespeare, Twelfth Night)

The idea of the heart as a repository of emotion, thought and memory gave rise to the metaphor of the heart as an “open book” in the Middle Ages. Later, the metaphor took corporeal form as collections of prayers, poetry and song were produced in actual heart-shaped volumes. The symmetrical iconic representation of the heart we know became popular around the beginning of the 15th century, the same time Chaucer made the first explicit connection between Saint Valentine and the celebration of love.
Olivia: Where lies your text?
Viola: In Orsino’s bosom.
Olivia: In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom?
Viola: To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.
(Shakespeare, Twelfth Night)

The idea of the heart as a repository of emotion, thought and memory gave rise to the metaphor of the heart as an “open book” in the Middle Ages. Later, the metaphor took corporeal form as collections of prayers, poetry and song were produced in actual heart-shaped volumes. The symmetrical iconic representation of the heart we know became popular around the beginning of the 15th century, the same time Chaucer made the first explicit connection between Saint Valentine and the celebration of love.

© 2004, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Young Man Holding a Book

Active between 1460 and 1485.

Master of the View of Sainte Gudule
Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950. Photo Credit: The Photograph Studio, Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1480
Oil on wood
20.6 x 12.6 cm.
50.145.27.
© 1997 Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Handcut Rebus or Puzzik Valentine

The recipient would have had to open it a certain way to read the numbered verses in the right order. The sender's name (and answer to the puzzle) may have been in the central medallion of this Valentine, which has disappeared.

Photo Credit: Fanshawe Pioneer Village
19th Century
29 x 28 cm
x2002.2.
© Fanshawe Pioneer Village.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Explain how symbolism is used to represent romantic emotions in Valentine’s greetings
  • Describe the types of symbols traditionally used to represent feelings of love and affection

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