THE HEART, Skylights and cutting windows in the Netherlands

5 mn read

The heart

The heart symbol, as we know it, with a pointed tip did not originate until the 16th century . Before that, the symbol was not yet known. Initially it did not have a sharp point, but it will appear within a century.




The heart has had a special meaning in many cultures since ancient times. A heart can just beat quietly but sometimes also beat loudly and the heart rhythm is strongly subject to emotions: from very calm to very agitated. And like the breath , there had to be a connection with life . When death sets in, the beating of the heart stops. I derive my data from research by Pierre Vinken, described in his book: The shape of the heart .




In the west, the heart is the seat of love , whether from person to person or in a spiritual and religious sense. In the East, as in Egypt, the heart was associated with intelligence and wisdom . So it was an early symbol of something very dear, namely love and wisdom.




There are actually no known heart images from earlier times. It has been claimed that one of the murals (25000 BC) in the cave of Pindal (Spain) has a heart pierced with arrows in a mammoth, but there is serious doubt about this.



Libra with heart and feather. If the heart is light, the owner of it may pass on to the realm of the dead.


Yet there was the heart of the 13 e  or 14 e century no symbol, as we know the heart symbol.




The Egyptians sometimes drew the jar in which the heart was placed with the mummy in the crypt, as a symbol of the heart. The heart itself was not depicted. This was taboo because of its special status as a seat of intelligence, wisdom and feeling, which can be inferred from Egyptian hieroglyphs.


The heart of a deceased person was placed on a scale with a feather as a counterweight on the other scale . Only those who had lived a sincere life, and whose heart was as light as the feather, was given access to the realm of the dead by Osiris.


Again the scales: the crocodile is waiting for its chance on the right, if the heart is too heavy.


The Greeks already did a lot of scientific research (Aristotle and Plato) and the heart was also the object of research. The state of medical knowledge at the end of the Middle Ages was little further than what the Greeks had already discovered. Thanks to the Byzantines and the Arabs, their knowledge has ended up in Western Europe. It is a strange sensation, when you realize that around 1400 people were just as far ahead as in the year 0.


The heart without a pointed tip


In the 12 e century the heart of Western Europe appears in the literature (poetry) as a metaphor for the secular and religious love. But only in the 14 e century, we see the heart as a symbol appear. With a notch at the top, but without a pointed point. Halfway through the 16 ecentury, researchers such as Da Vinci, Vesalius and William Harvey came up with new discoveries that helped to better understand circulation and the construction of the heart. There are anatomically correct drawings of the heart by Da Vinci.




But their knowledge came too late to correct the shape of the symbol. The pointed point , sometimes curved to one side in the beginning, was already popular and has remained so (with a straight point) to this day.


The pointed tip can be derived from the leaves of the Hedera (= ivy) or the Convolvulus (= the bindweed), which have been used as a symbol since ancient times.


Until the 16 e century, we see the heart without even pointed bottom.


Christine de Pisan


In an old French manuscript from 1460, we already see many hearts , but not yet with a sharp point. The print is from a manuscript containing the Epitre d’Othea de Hector , written around 1400 by one of the first female writers : Christine de Pisan (1363 – c. 1434).

This copy was commissioned by Anton van Bourgogne. It’s only 1 of 100 beautiful miniatures.


Woman spreading heart (Maria?) in manuscript from 1460


After the table of contents, a miniature appears showing Philips the Good, Charles the Bold and the 2 bastards David and Anton von Burgundy.


In the coat of arms, surrounded by a chain of scallops, runs a thin slanting bar, referring to the bastardship of the principal. See plate below.

This record actually falls outside the theme of HART, but is nevertheless interesting because of the time in which this book was created. Click on it to enlarge.


The Frisian flag


Halfway through the 16 e century does the pointed tip arrives. (Could the red early heart symbol  in the Frisian flag have ended up  in this flag?) The color almost suggests it.


Later the meaning of the pompeblêdden (= water lily leaves) may have been added. The representation of the hearts with a round bottom is in line with the fact that these symbols appeared on the coats of arms of Frisian kings as early as the 15th century.


It is striking that in the province of Groningen there is a flag and coat of arms, resembling the Frisian flag, and with real red heart symbols.


Fryske flagge: 7 hearts right?

The Frisian flag only came into use as a flag in the 19th century. The arms of the Frisian kings from the 15th century have been used. The number of ‘pompeblêdden’ varies from 7 to 11. On the weapons, the upper vertex with the narrowest lane is always white. The flag is blue.


hearts without sharp point on gravestone in Hooglandse Kerk, Leiden


The heart already plays a role in love, as you can see here on this old wooden lover’s cabinet from southern Germany. (The woman sits on the man’s back as a triumphant angel.)


Performance on Paxtafel


A Easter table fulfilled a similar role in the Catholic Church as the icon in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It often looks like a kind of panel.

In the past, a Easter table was often also a reliquary  and it served in rituals in which the churchgoers could kiss the Easter table .

He often had a handle on the back where the priest could hold him.


Heart and spear


Remarkable here is the spear that the princess is holding and which seems to pierce the heart offered .

Unfortunately I don’t see any ability to decipher the complete text of the edge lettering. What is funny about these gothic letters here is that they are so suitable to  be folded from a narrow strip .



It is tempting, given that it concerns love songs to see a heart in the form of the booklet. The sharp point then comes very early. It could also be that the date was made too soon.


Heart and sword


Mary is also often depicted with a heart. The great sorrow for the loss of her son is then represented with a sword through her heart.

We see this here on a Maastricht facing brick, which is currently kept in a depot. We see the house brand (kind of signature) of the owner and the year 1646. The heart has long since acquired its final shape (with sharp point).




Facing brick in Maastricht depot


This photo of the statue of the Virgin Mary shows her with heart and sword.

Enjoy The
Magic Of Words From The Authors

A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul.
I am alone, and feel the charm of existence in this spot!

Discover TrendyRead

Welcome to TrendyRead, an author and reader focussed destination.
A place where words matter. Discover without further ado our countless stories.

Build great relations

Explore all the content from TrendyRead community network. Forums, Groups, Members, Posts, Social Wall and many more. You can never get tired of it!

Become a member

Get unlimited access to the best articles on TrendyRead and support our  lovely authors with your shares and likes.