Valentine's Day – How Romantic Love is Depicted in Art

Celebrated every February 14th, Valentine's Day originated from the Christian feast day of Saint Valentine, a Roman Empire clergyman who, on that date, was martyred and buried in a Christian cemetery on the Flaminian Way.

Although he died in 260 AD, it wasn't until 496 AD that the Feast of Saint Valentine was observed, and even later still (around 1000 – 1250 AD) before it became associated with the tradition of 'courtly love'.

Arguably, courtly love, or amour courtois, was a conventionalized code of practice developed in European Royal households (notably Aquitaine, France) in the high middle ages, from a literary conception of love which asserted chivalry and virtue.

It provided the expression for extensive medieval literature, such as the poems written by troubadours who would proclaim themselves as a 'servant' to their lady (whom he would address as 'my Lord', to both flatter her, and maintain her anonymity and modesty).

A period laden with war and violence, the concept of a game of love was fondly received at the time, to offer respite and romance, and a certain level of certainty for happiness, as long as the 'rules' of love were followed and adhered to.

By 16th Century, William Shakespeare's Elizabethan audience were well versed in the theme of courtly love, and its rules for how lovers from wealthy and aristocratic families should behave. In his plays As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream he explores the theme from a comic point of view.

French Philologist Gaston Paris further popularised the term in the late 19th Century in his article Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde: Lancelot du Lac, II: Le conte de la charrette, in which he described amour courtois as a lover attempting to prove himself worthy of his mistress by completing a series of ordeals, and carrying out whatever deeds she may desire, whilst acting nobly and honourably in order to demonstrate his commitment to her.

As well as the lyrical art forms of literature, poetry and song, courtly and romantic love has long been featured in paintings. Frank Dicksee's 1921 oil painting The End of the Quest depicts a man and woman in the Romanticism style of painting. The man's position, kneeling, so that he sits slightly lower than the woman, seems to allude to him holding her in higher regard, clasping her hands and looking into her eyes as if imploring with her to accept his devotion.

Sculpture is another art form in which we can see love depicted, both sensually and seetly. Most famous perhaps is Auguste Rodin's marble sculpture The Kiss. Created in 1889, it originated from a relief from his The Gates of Hell monumental sculpture, garnering much controversy initially due to its
erotic theme.

Simon Gudgeon's Silver Swan is a gracefully formed sculpture of two bowing swans creating an elegant heart shape, fitting of the romantic season.

Two Sparrows by award winning sculptor Adam Binder is a beautifully composed piece showing a gentle moment between two love birds, evocative of a tender kiss and romantic connection.

 

Romantic love is an enduring theme through the artistic movements to present day.

Sculptural recreations of Robert Indiana's 1960s typographic Pop Art LOVE paintings can be found installed in cities around the globe including New York, Tokyo, Bilbao, and Taipei.

His famous piece is created from the letters L and O (slanted sideways) placed on top of the letters V and E in bold Didone type. Sam Toft even created her own homage to the piece in limited edition print It's All We Need (now available only for a limited time).

There are some wonderful examples of love-themed contemporary artwork on our online gallery.

Sam Toft creates wonderfully characterful mixed media depictions of husband and wife “Mr and Mrs Mustard” and their often unremarkable moments, such as walking the dog, a kiss on the cheek, dancing about in slippers, or a brief embrace, but which joined together weave a rich tapestry of shared common experiences like joy, sadness, nostalgia and contentment.

Aaminah Snowdon's Otterly Smitten and Homebirds limited edition prints are wonderfully playful romantic illustrations of love between the adorable animal and wildlife characters of cute otters and colourful puffins, respectively.

A picnic-ing couple in Dotty Earl's Chaperones limited edition print are pictured soaking in the scenery over a bustling harbour, accompanied by their canine companions...or maybe it is the dogs who are enjoying a romantic repast with a view!

If all this talk of romance has stirred your emotions, head over to our online gallery where we are sure you will find a sculpture, original painting or limited edition print with which to fall head-over-heels in love.

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