While Valentine’s Day prompts many of us to consider issues of the heart, the history of love symbols has a great deal to do with the concept of things intertwined, like a couple’s shared love. The love knot has a long and interesting history. Some legends indicate that sailors were the first to introduce braided rope and knotted jute in the form of a love knot for their beloved as they sailed the high seas.
Crewmen on ships would use their knot-tying skills in order to impress their lovers as they counted the days before returning home from voyages at sea. Love knots were retained among personal effects and often integrated into laced collars, bracelet or wrist bands and costumes of the late 19th century.
In addition to coveted love knots, other love symbols from a sailor’s life included carved scrimshaw jewelry or sailor’s valentines — wooden love boxes enhanced with seashells. These objects were often exchanged gifts of sailors and their loved ones. Some sailor’s valentines, those extraordinarily decorated boxes or shadowbox style picture frames, range in value into the tens of thousands of dollars on the secondary antiques market.
Like sailors, lovers from all parts of the world who were unfortunately parted by circumstance, distance or social custom used the concept of intertwined knots to profess their love, too. It is little known in the Western world that young Muslim women living in socially strict households historically pledged their love to young gentlemen via messages woven through knots — the knots of carpets, that is. This interesting and longstanding Arabian custom made the knot a well-documented symbol of unity and togetherness.
Historically, love symbols are typically found on the hand or worn close to the heart. Wedding rings, eternity bands and pendant necklaces all fall into this category. Yet, one of the most interesting and symbolic rings is the age-old claddagh. Unmistakable in its form showing a central heart topped by a crown and held on both sides by two hands, the claddagh ring is associated with eternal symbolism. The hands represent friendship, the crown denotes loyalty and the heart, of course, symbolizes love. This celtic mainstay has become an evident love symbol on objects as diverse as 14 karat gold royal jewelry to innovative tattoo and body art designs.
Fine artists of the contemporary art scene have also addressed the subject of interlaced and intertwined forms. Some examples include the mathematically-inspired drawing entitled Knots by famed artist, M.C. Escher (1898-1972) and the large-scale cast bronze sculpture of gnarled roots by Steve Tobin seen near New York City’s Wall Street and Broadway referencing a historic sycamore tree that protected St. Paul’s Chapel from the falling debris of the Sept. 11 attacks. Some things, like the joining of hearts, never go out of style.
Dr. Lori is a nationally known certified antiques appraiser and museum curator with a doctorate in art history. She can be contacted at www.DrLoriV.com or by calling (888) 431-1010.