11 June 2012

Dust Jacket : The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War (2009)
Designed by: Jill Breitbarth
Painting by: Feodor Dietz

This book is 1024 pages of gigantic. It stands out on the shelf. It is larger than life. How does one cover that?

This cover was designed by Jill Breitbarth. She is the senior designer at Harvard University Press, who published this book.

Harvard's over-all design structure has won numerous awards under her supervision and she has also won awards on her own as a designer.

Breitbarth frequently uses paintings for her cover designs and seems to favor the extreme close-up.

These covers tell complete stories.

That shot of the empty back seat and Presidential Seal tell you all you need to know about JFK and Dallas in one cropped photo.

The play of light on the knee and corner of a book on the Tagore tell you that you are in for a thoughtful, literary, and personal journey. Important visual clues delivered without you even noticing. Things that will be called back to within the pages.

A recent series of Stephen Jay Gould books that were designed by Sam Potts form a larger image when tiled. This is Breitbarth's idea expanded upon. The world in close-up, literally:


Her choice of painting for The Thirty Years War cover is a painting by Feodor Dietz titled, Duke of Friedland at The Charge of Wallenstein. It was painted in 1839. It conveys in one shot the total war that Europe was plunged into.


Dietz was a German painter of battles and historic scenes. He lived 1813-1870. Dietz studied and later taught in Karlsruhe. He decided to join the army in 1870 at the age of 57 and died later that year in the Franco-Prussian War.

The painting is of Albrecht Wallenstein on his horse attacking some doomed man in black. Due to his rank in the military he was able to obtain independence for Friedland form Bohemia in 1627. Friedland means Free Land in German. The duchy only lasted until 1634. Wallenstein died that year, a victim of his ambition and Ferdinand II's political machinations. Those politics were also a huge part of the Thirty Years War.

The painting shows us a man celebrated and destroyed by the same event. The close cropping makes us believe the man in black is the protagonist. And he may as well be, either way the events of three decades will come down on him. Hard.

Side note: Karlsruhe is the center of justice in Germany. It was at one time the capitol and was built from the center out, forming around a large palace and grounds. Washington D.C. closely resembles the layout, it is rumored to have been modeled on it.

Follow along in part two, where I talk about Kill Bill and black knights.

Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.