Ancient Egypt was an epoch of many gods, of many beliefs, and of many, many symbols. The djed amulet, the double plumes, the wedjat eye, the menat amulet: they came, they were once wildly popular, and they have all disappeared into oblivion. All except for one: since its first symbolic use by the Egyptians, the heart started its unstoppable rise to becoming the largest icon in history. This is a tribute to the oldest symbol for the deepest emotions. It is a story of life, it is a story of love. It all began 4000 years ago at the shores of the river Nile...

Credit MoMA

In 1976 Milton Glaser drew a “I ❤️ NY“ sketch that became an icon and was eventually included in the MoMA collection. At that precise moment, in the back of a taxi, the heart symbol became a verb, the first ever lingual expression beyond the alphabet.

Some 20 years later, just before the turn of the century, Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita designed a list of 176 emoji, now also part of the permanent collection of the MoMA. A new human expression was born, and with 5 icons, the heart was at the centre of it. After more than 2000 years, glyphs are back. Today, 4 of the 10 most frequently used emoji include a red heart.

The name for the heart hieroglyph was “ib”. For the ancient Egyptians, the heart was the source of wisdom, emotions and the soul itself. Given their limited anatomical knowledge, a logical conclusion. A constant, powerful beat, that accelerates with excitement and ceases with death. The heart was the only organ left in place during mummification, and played a central role in the passing to the afterlife. Heart amulets were the first symbolic representations, iconic for ancient Egypt.

Later, Greek poets and philosophers added a “love” dimension to the heart, picked up and popularized by the Romans. From Venus to Valentine, love became quickly synonymous with an endless stream of heart shaped cards and jewels.

Today, we don’t send brain icons, we don’t send dollar signs. We send hearts. Symbol for life, symbol for love, this heart amulet circles us back from the age of emoji to the age of glyphs.

If it is too big for words, say it with a ❤️.