Exchanging love tokens appears to be a timeless tradition. A new book in Recent Acquisitions, Masterpieces : Medieval Art, displays a number of them from the British Museum in great detail. Heart-shaped brooches, pendants, and rings with hidden inscriptions serve as evidence of the currency of love culture in medieval aristocratic society. Inscriptions in mostly French are dedicated to one's heart, being true, fast, given in whole, or conquering all. Even Chaucer's Prioress from Canterbury Tales wears a brooch bearing the Latin inscription: amor vincit omnia – love conquers all.
The British Museum examples are beautifully photographed so the reader can see the inscriptions. One ring has a message of love on the exterior, and a hidden drawing inside the band of a woman holding a squirrel on a leash.
The author’s interpretation for this iconography is rather bawdy – but fits within our understanding of the Middle Ages and courtly love. Another love token is a gold heart pendant from the fifteenth century, then a known symbol of passion, courage and devotion. This heart 's top surface is literally encrusted with tears in droplet form. Shakespeare expresses the same sentimentality of the melancholy lover: In the book of my thoughts / I have found written on my heart / The true history of sorrow / Illuminated with tears. The reverse of the pendant is engraved with an ivy leaf to signify constancy. Most likely pearls were suspended from the bottom of the heart on tiny gold chains. Here, the author states that in this exchange of love jewels between wealthy lovers, both men and women were likely to have worn them. Come have a look at this beautiful publication. Happy Valentine’s Day, gentle reader!