ImageMatch for researching 17th-century ballad contexts

The following is a guest post by Dr. Anders Ingram on the Bodleian Ballads blog, http://balladsblog.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/blog

The dramatic events of the second Ottoman siege of Vienna (1683) inspired a deluge of English printing from news sheets to long histories, and of course ballads. In a recent article for the Historical Journal I explore a number of English ballads written in the immediate aftermath of the siege, and show how contemporary commonplace images of the ‘Turk’ allowed these ballads to draw analogies between these events and English politics. My study situates these ballads within the wider milieu of pamphlet news, political polemic, and ballad publication. The Bodleian image matching tool offers a new resource for scholars seeking to contextualise the relationship between the text of a ballad and its visual illustrations by finding other examples where the same woodcut was used.

The Christian conquest ([1683]) is a black-letter Vienna ballad printed for the noted ballad partnership J. Wright, J. Clark, W. Thackery, and T. Passinger. The ballad is printed, typically for its style, in landscape orientation, with four columns of text and three garish woodcuts. Though The Christian Conquest survives only in the Roxburghe Collection in the British Library, digitised by EBBA, I had previously encountered one of the woodcuts from this ballad in the earlier black-letter ballad The Scotch Rebellion (J. Conyers, [1679]), which survives as Bodleian Douce 2(192a).

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Using the ImageMatch tool I was able to identify a further use of this illustration in Bodleian Wood E25(132), a copy of News from Ostend (F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clark, [1674-1678])
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ImageMatch is particularly good for comparing details of images side by side. Though The Scotch Rebellion is a notably less good quality impression, close comparison of these two woodcut images from the 1670s show wear on the block, notably a chip in frame top left (see highlight above), indicating that they may be images taken from the same woodcut block. Using the tool to compare these images to the illustration from The Christian Conquest, shows a very close match to News from Ostend, and these impressions were almost certainly taken from the same block.

The Christian Conquest also shares an image of two mounted figures which appears in Bodleian Wood E25(98), The Matchless Murder (J. Conyers, [1682]).
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Again chip marks in the lower right of the frame and other details of the impression indicate that this impression is probably taken from the same block as the image from The Christian Conquest.

So what does all this tell us? News from Ostend is particularly interesting as the involvement of J. Wright and J. Clark provide a continuity to the partnership that produced The Christian Conquest. Further, though News from Ostend is essentially a love ballad, in the form of a letter from a soldier, while The Christian Conquest revels in the news of Vienna’s rescue, they both share a topical interest in military affairs on the continent. Ballad specialists such as Wright, Clark and their associates, would have owned a range of woodcuts suited to illustrating common sub-genres such as military, drinking, or love songs, and these could easily overlap. Thus though The Matchless Murder specifically describes a deadly assault by pistol wielding horsemen, a woodcut of armed horsemen was also general enough to be used in a military ballad such as The Christian Conquest.

The illustrations in The Christian Conquest relate to its military theme rather than specifically to the topic of Vienna or the Turks. The significance of these images lies in the generic form in which this ballad takes – evident in the words as well as the illustration – and the reuse of images by established ballad specialist ballad publishers, rather than their visual details.

Anders Ingram is a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellow at the National University of Ireland, Galway. This post draws on his recent article ‘The Ottoman Siege of Vienna (1683), English Ballads and the Exclusion Crisis’, The Historical Journal (2014), 57, pp 53-80 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X13000484).

Search for more ImageMatch results in the Broadside Ballads Online site, from the Bodleian Libraries.

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