Lockhart’s Spanish Ballads


The elaborate title pages and covers are initially what caught my eye due to its gold lining and intricate patterns. The front cover of the book is symmetrical and uses a sleek, thin, gold lined pattern around the title which is Lockhart’s Spanish Ballads. The book is dated 1842 and the state of the pages matches the old age. There are blemishes and other spots that show decay of the ink and of the fibers that make up the pages. Another aspect that became immediately apparent, was the thickness of the paper. Even though the pages were somewhat discolored, they were fully intact (from what I could tell) as a result of their stockiness. 

(Figure 1: Cover page of book, displaying the ornamental gold pattern and black leather background)

Physically the book is about 9 x 11 inches and possibly weighs about two or three pounds. The binding is casebound by using some sort of adhesive along with a string, woven to keep the pages together through the spine of the book similar to the example in the Making Manuscripts video (although this was many years after medieval times). As previously noted, the paper was especially thick adding a significant amount of weight; the actual compounds of the pages can be assumed to be made from cotton or linen given that synthetic vellum paper was invented a little after the book was published and produced. 

The look of the Lockhart’s Spanish Ballads corresponds with the context and contents of the book, being from the 1840s and involving historic and romantic recollections. The book resembles that of a fantasy novel full of secrets, from the elegant design on the front in gold with a faded black leather background, to the notion of the stories telling the history of Spanish kings and romances. The feel of the book was normal regarding the leather and the binding, but while turning the pages there was a tangible difference in usual paper thickness and the my most immediate reaction was that a paper cut would not be possible. Other facets of this paper would be durability and preservation. The artwork and borders on the pages contained little to no blemishes, which is tribute to the quality of the printing press despite the long lifetime of the copy. 

(Figure 2: A printed border around the text adding a splash of color and order to the layout)

The historical significance was the driving factor for interest in the novel, but when I found the book, it was opened to compelling images of stories bordered with ornamental patterns that both complemented the tales and the overall design of the book. The typography also drew me in to some of the stories that were not accompanied by an image; the design of the border and letters were the only visual that aided the readers imagination. The bright colors gave the borders an immediate pop and this allowed each page to have an interesting balance of vibrant reds, blues, and golds enclosing the dark, black fonts. These design choices make the book a notable example of renaissance storytelling, but also the idea of compiling these histories and tales evokes a spiritual feeling of wonder in readers as they are given an insight to the past.

The excerpts are organized into two distinct sections: Romantic Stories and Historical Stories. Within the historical category, there are numerous accounts of tales about kings, shepherds, knights and other medieval characters that learn morals by interacting with the world around them. Some of the stories are political regarding marriages to unite kingdoms, some are tragic about the death of princesses and betrayal, and some resemble parables in that a king is shown a new perspective by interacting with a lowly peasant. Aside from the literary design, the typography is primarily serif, the images are black and white, and the cover is a significant contrast from the rest of the lively color choices coexisting with the text. 

Lockhart’s Spanish Ballads is significant in the realm of Special Collections because it is a prime example of Renaissance work, in terms of subject matter and design. The romanticism of the stories and the patterns are representative of its particular style, similar to other works regarding Spain following the works of other artists such as Goya. Nature seems to be a common theme within many of the stories and this is also in line with Renaissance values. The borders call to mind the organic patterns of vines and branches, but emphasize symmetry at the same time which begins to introduce the dichotomy between the natural order and the industrial works of man. The work is closely related to Moorish literature and authors such as Chauncey Starkweather and Epiphanius Wilson who also stressed the ideas of ornament as a key aspect of literature. While this book does not provide a template for most modern novels and stories, it gives insight into both the oral traditions of the before the Renaissance and the popular style of writing and text design at the time. 

(Figure 3: Elaborate title page within the first few pages that demonstrates the use of precious metals and vibrant colors)

An important part of this book’s history is that the original book by John Lockhart was a translation that did not include all of the design work with the patterns, borders, and artwork. The original book was published in 1823 and at the time, the British culture was against the decorative aspect of literature and this pushed Lockhart away from including the romantic art now shown in the version put together by Owen Jones and John Murray. Murray saw the original translation as overlooked because it did not stand out amongst other poetic work, although Lockhart was considered one of the greats, Murray wanted to emphasize the ballads moreso. By adding such decorative aspects, the Spanish Ballads were seen as good design in the eyes of artists and already had the respect of the literaries. Another way that this book has unique value is that it was one of the very few illustrated and patterned mass produced books in Europe during the Renaissance. The book combines Christian European influence, romantic illustrations to complement the stories, and David Hay’s Laws of Harmonious Coloring to create a remarkable work that emphasizes context, construction, and storytelling and helped decorative literature become a landmark of the Renaissance era. 






Frankel, Nicholas. “The Designer’s Eye: Ancient Spanish Ballads, Poetry, and the Rise of Decorative Design.” Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, number 54, may 2009, p. 0–0. https://doi.org/10.7202/038759ar


Macartney, H. (1999). Sir William Stirling Maxwell: Scholar of Spanish Art. Space, Time and Form, (12), 287-316. Retrieved from https://proxying.lib.ncsu.edu/index.php/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/docview/1115586213?accountid=12725


Starkweather, Chauncey Clark, 1851-1922, and Epiphanius Wilson. Moorish Literature: Comprising Romantic Ballads, Tales of the Berbers, Stories of the Kabylie, Folk-lore And National Traditions. Rev. ed. New York: The Colonial press, 1901.