ornaments (typographic) ☜☞ adornos (tipográficos)

This entry includes: headpiece; tailpiece; wood cut, wood engraving; metal type; fleurons, arabesques, etc. The Ornament Section on the Navigation Bar will be a fully searchable database of all the ornaments corresponding to the sueltas in this survey.

We find sueltas from the very plain to the ornately decorated throughout the entire period covered in our survey. While the first and last pages are the most likely to feature ornaments, some printers (Leefdael among them), sometimes had a vertical row of fleurons between the two columns of the text. In some instances, especially in the case of a title page, there was a full border. There are also examples of borders surrounding lists of plays on the last pages. 

The headpiece is a large type-ornament or vignette at the head of a chapter or division of the book, often found in collections (partes) of comedias. Headpieces could be made from woodcuts, wood engravings, metal cuts, or an attractive combination of printer’s type arranged in a decorative fashion.

The tailpiece is a large type-ornament or vignette at the end of a chapter or division of the book, often found in collections (partes) of comedias. A volume of collected plays was a considerable financial investment on the part of the printer. If in such a volume, there was ample blank space left at the end of a play, the printer would add a handsome tailpiece to enhance the look and the value of the book. These ornaments also served the practical function of adding support to the area of blank paper so that the paper would not sag during printing. Tailpieces could be made from woodcuts, wood engravings, metal cuts, or even a combination of printer’s type arranged in a decorative fashion.

Wood-cuts and wood-engravings are blocks of carved wood used for relief printing as a means to decorate books. The difference between a woodcut and a wood-engraving has to do with the grain of the wood that is used. Woodcuts are cut into the “plank” side, cut horizontally from a log; woodcuts are usually carved with knives or other implements, and are less fine in detail. Wood engravings are cut on the end grain of the wood (perpendicular to the "plank") the grain of which being more compact, allows a finer tool, the burin, to cut into the wood in any direction, thus creating very fine details. The best wood for engraving is boxwood. In the case of sueltas, we see them most frequently as headpieces and tailpieces. The lifespan of woodblocks and wood engraving covered many decades, if not centuries. The example of letter B on its side (see the fourth illustration) is thought to have been used for over two hundred years by the time Lucas Antonio de Bedmar printed with it. These woodcuts and wood engravings were sometimes loaned by one printed to another and were almost always sold as second-hand to other printers when their quality broke down.

A metal ornament is a decorative shape or symbol made from metal type, either carved into a block of metal, if large, or cast into a type ornament, if small. Individual ornaments with recognizable shapes can be named:
  • acorns
  • angels
  • baskets of flowers
  • crosses
  • human figures
  • ivy leaves
  • manicules/fists
  • parentheses
  • section and paragraph signs
  • stars
  • urns 
Much less precise are fleurons and arabesques that were often combined in a myriad of patterns. Composites of these small metal ornaments (both geometric and botanical) cannot be identified by a single name.

We have attempted to compile a thesaurus of terms to be used for the cataloguing of ornaments. It can be seen with examples on the Ornaments landing page.

See also: fleurons
  • Headpiece by Manuel de Sande (Seville 1627-1635?)

    [Hispanic Society Museum and Library]

ornaments (typographic)
ornaments (typographic)
ornaments (typographic)
ornaments (typographic)