Have You Seen This Heart?


The chances are that your answer to that question is yes. If you look at as many anatomical inspired works of art and products as I do, then that answer is yes, hundreds of times.

With the use of anatomical imagery in the creative industries having bourgeoned over the last few years, and showing no signs of slowing down, the scrabble for beautiful images that are easy (and free) to reproduce is paramount. Unless you can draw, you are left with using copyright free (royalty free) images. For those less familiar with this term, it essentially means images that were published more than a specified number of years ago (typically over 100 years) and are now out of legal copyright law protection so anyone can use them for profit.

Undoubtedly the rise in use of anatomical images over the last few years began with ‘the skull’. The next recognisable organ and one that has a convenient emotional symbolism, is the human heart. There are however only a few really nice engravings of hearts available in the public domain. This one being the one that has been chosen most.

The same historical anatomical heart used across products

To give you an idea of just how prevalent this heart has become, if you search on Etsy for ‘anatomical heart’, it brings up 3,935 results (and growing by 100 a week!). You don’t need to browse these results for long to realise that ‘this heart’ has been used in many of the items. And that’s just one online source. There are many others, and the images I’ve chosen are from multiple sources.

It seems you can’t go into a gift store these days without seeing at least something with ‘that heart’ on. When Vanessa and I met in New York last month, we stumbled upon these;

Vanessa Ruiz and Emily Evans spotting products with the same historical anatomical heart on them

Some people have used the heart as reference for their own version;

The same historical anatomical heart shape used in art

From books to films & album covers… 


So let’s go back to the beginning. Where does it come from?


Courtesy of google books, scanning the book and making it publicly available online, you can see the entire book ‘Physiology for young people adapted to intermediate classes and common schools.’

It was published in 1884 by American Book Co. Ironically and sadly, despite scouring the book, I cannot find the original artist of this work. I am told by Michael Sappol of the National Library of Medicine:

“This kind of generic image usually comes in many different variations, using different technologies of reproduction, over a fairly long timespan, and is usually very hard, if not impossible, to track down to its original iteration. The book itself is compiled by a publisher that did a lot school anatomy publications and also chromolithographic anatomies for embalmers and medical students, anatomical phantoms and manikins, etc, all of which borrow from sources, occasionally obvious or not so much.”

Historical anatomical heart tattoos

I wonder what the original artist would have made of the plethora of creativity this image has inspired.

For me, this phenomenon not only is a reflection of how people access and use images in the 21st century, but also how mainstream anatomical images are becoming. 20 years ago when I trained as an anatomist, there were no images of human hearts on t-shirts, mugs and tattoos. Now there are thousands.

Could this particular heart engraving be the most reproduced anatomical image of all time?

Choose Not a Life of Imitation with historical anatomical heart on hand

eeer – I think someone should tell them..?



Citation of images used – top to bottom left to right;

Products image:

  1. Instagram: @jennifercreighton
  2. Trinket Trays Heart at Magpieline
  3. As De Coeur at Laboite Verte 
  4. Anatomical Heart Pillar Candle via Pinterest
  5. Large Anatomical Heart Necklace by the SpangledMaker via Etsy
  6. Love My Anatomical Heart by Nicoleportershop via Etsy
  7. Lavinias Tea Party via Etsy 
  8. Brevi Manu Arts 
  9. Pink Peri™ Anatomy Heart Images Vintage Graphics Protective Hard Phone Case For Samsung Note 3 cases
  10. DIY Personalized Vintage Heart Pillow 
  11. Anatomy Human Heart Upcycled Dicitonary 

Adapted images:

  1. Human Hearts Crawling with Cockroaches Anatomical Heart Poster Series via Trend Hunter 
  2. Anatomical Heart via Pinterest 
  3. Laser Cut Papercutting Artwork by Lightpaper via Etsy 
  4. Anatomically Correct Heart Drawn on Illustrator via Boy Division
  5. Anatomical Heart IR6 by AnatomicalHeART via Society6 
  6. Cross Stitch Kit Heart Beat by FredSpools via Etsy 


  1. 35 Sensitive Anatomical Heart Tattoo Designs via Tattoo Journal 
  2. Heart Etching tattoo by Gene Coffey via Flickr 
  3. Instagram: @vee_hart
  4. Personal image taken at my anatomical heart pop up shop 2013
  5. So Happy With It via Everything Wax Beautiful Tumblr 
  6. 35 Sensitive Anatomical Heart Tattoo Designs via Tattoo Journal 
  7. 35 Sensitive Anatomical Heart Tattoo Designs via Tattoo Journal 
  8. New Tattoo I Love It via Ohhh You’re So Naive Tumblr 
  9. Instagram: @jana_tattooartist
  10. Instagram: @8ofswordstattoo
  11. Instagram: @metaanatomy
  12. Another Heart by 23 Dogma via Dogma Noir Tumblr

Final image:

Revelations of a Flower Child Tumblr 



About our Guest Author


Emily Evans

Emily is an Anatomist and Medical illustrator. She has been working as a Medical Illustrator for the last 12 years and works from her studio in London UK. Emily is also senior demonstrator of anatomy at Cambridge University, UK, teaching the medical students human dissection and anatomy. Additionally, Emily is the author and illustrator of ‘Anatomy in Black’, owner and designer at Anatomy Boutique, Anatomist and Artist in Residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, New York and a Member of the Medical Artists’ Association of Great Britain, the Institute of Anatomical Sciences and the Anatomical Society. View her medical illustration and art at emilyevansillustration.com.

2 thoughts on “Have You Seen This Heart?”

  1. So very studious of you to attempt to track down the source for this image. It certainly makes for interesting reading. How long until the Netter images are in the public domain? Do you know if they can keep the copyright on such things beyond 100 years? It looks like the Netter drawings were first published in 1948.

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