February 14 as a date became a day for love, and it was all thanks to Chaucer.
“Be my Valentine” - the word’s that make the heart beat faster and the world seem dreamier. I remember at school (back in the day…) how we bought pink cardboard cut-out hearts and wrote a little messages on the back. Then we’d wait in excruciating anticipation to see if we’d get a heart ourselves on the day. It was always a successful fund raiser even if it left a few bruised souls in its wake.
Chaucer the author of wrote a poem in 1382 entitled “Parliament of Fowles,” , the birds:
The popularity of Chaucer’s poem, which likely stems from a pre-existing general belief, at least in medieval England, that February 14 is the day when birds choose their mates, is what truly cemented the idea that Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romantic love. This belief may have been recorded in medieval bestiaries, popular early books that compiled stories about animals, mythical and otherwise. Never mind that not all birds mate for life. Penguins do, as do geese and falcons. But ducks, for instance, do not—yet the Mandarin Duck is a Chinese symbol for fidelity.
The first known Valentine Card, and reference to someone as a “valentine,” date to only a century after Chaucer’s popular poem. On 14 February 1477, an English woman named Margery Brews wrote to her love, John Paston of Norfolk:
Renaissance images of (little love gods) or cherubic were also shaped by Classical images of figures and contributed to the gorwing tradition. Of course, much of the Classical tradition of a winged Cupid or Eros – as seen above in the Romantic Era sculpture in the Louvre by Antoine-Denis Chaudet – a prankster often shooting love arrows into unsuspecting humans has also been absorbed into modern Valentine’s Day imagery.
At the British Postal Museum, the first known heart-shaped card is preserved, a sheet of paper from 1790 that folds, origami-like, to literally break apart the painted heart-shaped exterior. Outside, the card reads: “My dear the Heart which you behold/Will break when you the same unfold/Even so my heart with lovesick pain/Sore wounded is and breaks in twain.” When the heart is “broken” open, one more line of text lies inside: “My dearest dear and blest divine/I’ve pictured here thy heart and mine.” These antique valentines, from 1477 and 1790, do not sound so far removed from modern-day Hallmark cards.
The general heart-shape that we now associate with love and Valentine’s Day, which does not look much like a real human heart, may be found in Renaissance art, including Donatello’s relief sculpture, (1447-50), as Oxford professor Martin Kemp notes in his recent book . A Catholic cult developed around the Sacred Heart around the Counter-Reformation. A burning heart came to be associated with Catholic mysticism and the supernatural phenomenon of “,” the fire of love, in which a worshiper has an out-of-body experience (, from which comes the term “ecstasy”) and literally becomes burning hot with spiritual love for God.
While variations on the heart image have been around for centuries, it was not until 1977 that the cartoon heart image was codified by designer Milton Glaser, as part of the “I (Heart) NY” campaign, wherein the heart-shape acts as a rebus, an image standing in for a word or idea.
This Valentine’s Day we hope your hearts desires come true.