The Shape of the Heart

Overview

The most widely recognised icon in the world is the human heart, as depicted, for example, on playing cards. But a heart has neither a dent nor fold in its base, it is not 'nipped in the waist' and it does not have a sharp point on its underside. Since the days of the ancient Greeks, anatomists have correctly reported that the heart is shaped like a pine cone or has the outline of an upturned pyramid. Why is the shape of such a popular icon so at variance with the heart's true ...

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Overview

The most widely recognised icon in the world is the human heart, as depicted, for example, on playing cards. But a heart has neither a dent nor fold in its base, it is not 'nipped in the waist' and it does not have a sharp point on its underside. Since the days of the ancient Greeks, anatomists have correctly reported that the heart is shaped like a pine cone or has the outline of an upturned pyramid. Why is the shape of such a popular icon so at variance with the heart's true form?

It seems that the indentation or fold in the base of the heart first appeared in Northern Italy in the early years of the fourteenth century. It was the result of an error originally made in an anatomical text by Aristotle. In the sixteenth century, anatomists finally corrected the error, but, by that time, the scalloped heart icon had become so established in the visual arts that it could no longer be changed.

This work also contains a section devoted to a cave, shaped like the interior of the heart, in an allegorical print by Jan Saenredarn (1604). The representation was a creation of Hendrik Spiegel (1549-1612), one of the fathers of Dutch grammar and a friend of Cornelis Cornelisz, Hendrik Goltzius and Karel van Mander.

The book contains black-and-white illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Many have wondered how the heart came to be represented with a notch at the top, waisted sides, and a point at the bottom. Vinken, who gave up neurosurgery to go into publishing, traces the popular shape to an error in copying an anatomical text by Aristotle in early 14th- century northern Italy. By the time anatomists had corrected the error two centuries later, he shows the icon had become established. He here corrects the 1999 edition, but still does not include an index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780444829870
  • Publisher: Elsevier Health Sciences
  • Publication date: 12/28/1999
  • Pages: 208

Table of Contents

Why is the heart not heart-shaped? The scalloped heart. Rough chronology. The heart as a cave - Hendrik Spiegel's Antrum platonicum. Appendices. Notes. References.

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