Ancient Spanish Ballads. Owen Jones, illuminator, 1809-1874, illuminator. 25.4 x 19.7 cm. Source: Ancient Spanish Ballads (1859). Collectin: New York Public Library. Beckwith, Victorian Bibliomania catalogue no. 27. [Click on images to enlarge them.

Commentary by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith

With the first edition of Ancient Spanish Ballads in 1841, Owen Jones, a young Welsh architect, began the new industry of chromolithographed illuminated gift books (McLean 81). The book was so popular that it went through four editions by 1859, when John Murray published the present version. Jones began designing Ancient Spanish Ballads while working on his scholarly study of the Alhambra in Spain (cat. 46). Motifs derived from the architectural decoration of that Moorish palace adorn the pages 111 Ancient Spanish ballads, as well as penwork based on Northern European manuscript arts. Almost every page in the book shows Jones's wood-engraved borders, initials, and head and tail pieces in many styles and colors. These stories of Spanish knights and nobles are divided thematically and by Jones's chromolithographed half-title pages such as the one illustrated here.

To avoid repeating himself, Jones redesigned each new edition of Lockhart's Spanish Ballads, as the book was titled on its cover. Comparison of the "Romantic Ballads" page with the original version illustrated in McLean's Victorian Book Design reveals the transformations in Jones's style between 1841 and 1859. Blue, red, and gold are the colors used throughout, along with black, but the later design is less dependent on metalwork and architectural motifs. Jones's experience with over fourteen other illumi- nated books, including The Book of Common Prayer and The Song of Songs (cats. 2, 4), allowed him to develop his scribal abilities. There is a sacrifice of legibility in the bold drama of Jones's later swirling pen work, but the visual impact is stunning. Now the image fills the page, as Jones has concentrated on enlivening the letters rather than just providing decoration around them.

You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Hathi Digital Trust Library and the New York Public Library and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Beckwith, Alice H. R. H. Victorian Bibliomania: The Illuminated Book in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Exhibition catalogue. Providence. Rhode Island: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1987.

Calkins, Robert C. Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages. London: Thames & Hudson, 1983.

Lockhart, John G. translator and editor. Ancient Spanish Ballads, Historical and Romantic. 4th ed. London: John Murray, 1859. Printers: Bradbury & Evans. Illuminator: Owen Jones. Hathi Digital Trust Library version of a copy in the New York Public Library. Web. 26 December 2013.

McLean, Ruari. Victorian Book Design and Colour Printing. 2nd edition. [London]: Faber & Faber, [1972].

Last modified 26 December 2013