Heartbreak and Heartache


Valentine’s Day is traditionally a day for sharing happiness and love with partners, friends or family, but this year I’ve been thinking about people who perhaps don’t have a life partner, or who find themselves separated from loved ones by illness or pandemic.

Whilst St Valentine today is most often associated with romantic love, early accounts often refer to “courtly love” which implies adoration from afar, piety and chivalry. Love in the English language is a catch-all term and is used in lots of different ways from loving your parents, being in love, loving your child, to loving pizza and the latest post on social media.

To be more discerning or specific we often have to look to other languages or alternative words such as affection, adore, like, devotion, lust, enchantment, partial to, relish, worship, fondness, crush, amorous, passion.

But let us assume “love” can be used to express our feeling for our nearest and dearest in romantic and familial ways. Aberdeen’s art and history collections hold a variety of declarations of love.

Love tokens exchanged might reflect a heart shared with another, where one keeps one half and sends the other on its way as a reminder of what it can be to be whole again. We only have this half heart silver brooch (by Tracey Blease)… I wonder who might have the other half and if they are waiting to be reunited with the Art Gallery?




half heart silver brooch copyright © Tracey Blease

During times of enforced separation in the past, lovers might have sent letters, greetings cards or postcards, exchanged stories of happier times and planned what to do when reunited. One of a series of postcards sent home during the First World War shows a couple very much in love with the verse: 

“One face alone I dream of, night and day
One voice in loving fancy oft I hear,
My thoughts are always with You, far away,
And tender memories seem to bring You near.”

Some of the messages are extremely moving, whereas others are pragmatic and even mundane.




'Absence makes the Heart Grow Fonder' Postcard, Date1915 / Presented in 2010 by Mr Simon Lyn.

So how will you ease the heart-ache, especially on St Valentine’s day 2021? A Zoom call, a letter, a socially-distanced wistful wave through a window, or using all your spare mobile minutes on a 3- hour-long phone conversation?

As St Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers, perhaps the best way would be to send living flowers such as bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis), love-in-the-mist (Nigella damascena), forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) or hearts-ease (Viola tricolor).




Hearts-ease Pansy (Viola tricolor) watercolour painted in 1914 by William Catto (Aberdeen-born artist, 1843-1927)

Or perhaps you literally wear your heartache on your sleeve (or lapel).




Red Heart Brooch from the Peggy Walker Gift / On Display - Gallery 08

However you spend St Valentine’s day this year, be aware how extraordinary it is for everyone, share love and compassion with whoever you can.

And finally, St Valentine is also patron saint of plague victims – something we can perhaps draw parallels to in our current Covid-19 life. Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Valentine for a profound (disturbing) link to life in lockdown!


Blog by Helen Fothergill, Head of Collections