Best-selling ballads and their pictures in seventeenth-century England

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This article examines the woodcut pictures that appeared on best-selling ballads published in London during the seventeenth century. One hundred and twenty-five of the period’s top ballads are identified using a range of criteria and a selection of these publications is then studied in multiple editions. It is argued that the dismissive attitude to the pictures that has often been adopted by scholars is urgently in need of revision. The woodcut pictures were an integral component of the genre and deserve to studied closely. Publishers and printers were keenly aware of the importance of the pictures and put considerable thought into their preparation and placement. Thus, the pictures helped to generate meaning for contemporary consumers, and the re-use of old woodcuts on new ballads set up interesting connections between different publications. Overall, it is argued that there was a sophisticated web of reference and association at work within the pictorial culture of balladry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-99
JournalPast and Present
Issue number1
Early online date01 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2016


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