The use of hearts has a long history within Christian symbolism as a whole. Of the most common form, the one with the greatest longevity appears to be the plain, upright heart, which is popular from the 1780s to the 1940s, peaking in the 1880s and 1890s (Fig. 6a). The earlier examples are most usually in low false relief while later ones are frequently cut in high relief and display additional attributes including bands of thorns, gushing blood and puncture wounds to the heart (Pl. 8). However, this particular evolution of form may be as much the result of changes in fashion as developments in carving techniques and technology. Of particular interest is the occurrence of the inverted heart (Pls. 9 & 10).
The symbol may be interpreted as an image of death, similar to the use of the omega, mentioned above. Occasionally, the inverted heart occurs in conjunction with the inverted omega (e.g. Plate 7). However, the exact intention of such a combination must remain obscure. The symbol is most often found appended beneath the cross-bar of the ‘H’ in the ‘IHS’ monogram. The form enjoyed popularity from the 1780s to 1850s, especially at either end of the period. While these specific forms have waned, it is now frequently incorporated into representations of Christ (Pl. 11).
Figure 6a. Frequency of use of hearts as a decorative device.