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Museum Monday

Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, museums, virtual tour, museum experience, social media

Plantin Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium

November 5, 2012

By Mary Jo Gibson

Today on Museum Monday, we are visiting the Plantin Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, which honors the famous printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus.  It is located in their former residence and printing establishment, Plantin Press.

The site offers a video tour of the building, and some tutorials about printing and art.  The Museum possesses an exceptional collection of typographical materials, and the two oldest surviving printing presses with a complete set of dies and matrices.  The extensive library with its richly decorated interior and archive of the business is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program, registered in 2001 in recognition of their historical significance.  Let’s go inside and see what we can find!

Entrance to Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, museum experience, virtual tour

Entrance to Plantin Moretus Museum

Tapestries at the Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Tapestries at the Plantin Moretus Museum

Library at the Plantin Moretus Museum, virtual tour, Museum Monday, social media, museum experience

Library at the Plantin Moretus Museum

The Residence, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

The Residence

Second LIbrary, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Second Library

The thriving enterprise of Plantin produced 2450 works, and was continued after the death of Christophe Plantin by his son in law, Jan I Moretus (1543-1610), and then his son Balthasar I Moretus (1574-1641).  His friendship with Peter Paul Rubens consolidated the firm’s reputation.  The famous artist produced drawings of exceptional works of Baroque publishing.  The international reputation led to visits by Marie de Medici in 1631, Queen Christina of Sweden in 1654 and a number of Italian and Polish aristocrats.

The collection features the Biblia Polyglotta (1568-1573), a Bible in five languages

The Thesaurus Teutoniae Linguae

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, a geographical book by Abraham Ortelius

Cruydeboeck, by Rembert Dodoens, a book describing herbs

A book on anatomy by Andreas Vesalius and Joannes Valverde

Paintings and drawings by Peter Paul Rubens

A study by humanist Justus Lipsius and many of his works

The Deposition, Lucas Vorsteman, 1595-1675, after Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, ca. 1620, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

The Deposition, Lucas Vorsteman, 1595-1675, after Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, ca. 1620

In the first half of the 16th century, Paris was a dangerous place for anyone in the book trade suspected of disseminating literature tinged with Reformation ideas.  This may have prompted Platnin’s move to the more liberal atmosphere of Antwerp in 1549.

Even in Antwerp, printers had to be careful.  Plantin’s property is seized in 1562 because he sold a heretical pamphlet, but he conceived an ambitious project that would place his credentials as faithful servant of the Church beyond doubt.  He planned to print the multi-volume polyglot Bible in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldaic (Middle Eastern language), and Syriac.  He sought sponsorship from one of the most powerful men in Europe, Philip II, whose domain encompassed not only the kingdom of Spain by all the Netherlands.  Because of the royal sanction, the Bible became known as the Biblia Regia.

Polygot Bible, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Polygot Bible

Philip II insisted that a learned Spanish clergyman, Benito Arias Montano, should supervise the project.  The multi-volume project became a difficult and expensive undertaking.  New typefaces were struck in the Greek and Hebrew alphabets.   Plantin’s son in law and business partner, Jan Moretus, was fluent in Greek, but compositors employed who were capable of setting Hebrew.  Philip II proved far readier at sending instructions than at forwarding the financial aid he had promised.  Even after publication of all eight volumes, the problems did not cease.  A rival scholar denounced Montano to the Spanish Inquisition, claiming that the Hebrew and Chaldaic sections were overly supportive of Jewish beliefs.  Montano was acquitted, but nobody in the 16th century stood before the Inquisition without anxiety.

With various typefaces skillfully arranged on the page to avoid confusion, the Polyglot Bible is regarded as Plantin’s masterpiece as a printer.

Abraham Ortelius by Peter Paul Rubens, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Abraham Ortelius by Peter Paul Rubens

Abraham Ortelius’ momumental work, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, regarded as the first atlas to appear.  It was an instant success and four issues of the first edition are published in 1570.  When it appeared, it was the most expensive book ever printed.  The enthusiasm from the public resulted in 7300 copies from 1570-1612.

Map of Alexander the Great's conquests, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Map of Alexander the Great’s conquests

The thriving enterprise of Plantin produced 2450 works, and continuing after the death of Christophe Plantin by his son-in-law, Jan I Moretus (1543-1610), and then his son Balthasar I Moretus (1574-1641).  His friendship with Peter Paul Rubens consolidated the firm’s reputation.  The famous artist produced drawings of exceptional works of Baroque publishing.  The international reputation led to visits by Marie de Medici in 1631, Queen Christina of Sweden in 1654 and a number of Italian and Polish aristocrats.

Balthasar Moretus, Plantin Moretus Museum, social media, Musuem Monday, virtual tour, museum experience

Balthasar Moretus 1574-1641

Book Illustration by Rubens, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Book Illustration by Rubens

During the first quarter of the 19th century, the situation of the Moretuses deteriorated.  Unable to come to terms with the modernization of printing, development of mechanical and rotary presses; Edward Moretus (1804-1880) was to be the last of the printer/publishers of the family; in 1866 the final book is produced, Horae diurnae S. Francisi, and Edward was forced to cease printing.  He became the curator of the family patrimony and a collector.  In 1873, he negotiated the sale of the property with all the contents to the Belgian state and City of Antwerp.

Printing Art, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Printing Art

Museum Staff, 1902, Museum Monday, Plantin Moretus Museum, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Museum Staff, 1902

Illustration of Omega Symbol, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience.

Illustration of Omega Symbol

Thank you for joining me on Museum Monday at the Plantin Moretus Museum.  Next week I plan a review of the Chazen Museum exhibition, Offering of the Angels: Paintings and Tapestries from the Uffizi Gallery, which may be the closest I get to this storied place for the next few years.  I look forward to chatting with you about other museums you enjoy!

Cheers,
MJ

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Museum Monday

October 29, 2012

By Mary Jo Gibson

The Raft of the Medusa

I am always on the lookout for new paintings that tell an incredible story, and the Raft of Medusa by Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) proved to be a treasure trove of history, tortured lives, and brutal, life changing events.  A simple picture on Pinterest brought  this immense canvas into my line of sight, reading about the painting in Lynn Nicholas’ The Rape of Europa’ did not even begin to hint at the complexity of the story of the Medusa.

Gericault drew his inspiration from a current event of the times, the wreck of the Meduse – a French Royal Navy frigate that set sail in 1816 to colonize Senegal.  The ship ran aground off the coast of what is now Mauritania, on a sand bar that reaches far into the ocean along the coast of the Sahara; a place known for raids by Moorish pirates, who sold their hostages into slavery in Turkey.

The crew and passengers of the Meduse numbered 400, 160 of which were crew, but there was only space for 250 in the lifeboats.  The remaining 145 men and one woman were piled onto a hastily constructed raft that partially submerged once it was loaded.  The captain and the crew of the lifeboats intended to tow the raft, but after only a few hours, it was released to drift in the ocean.  For sustenance, these doomed souls had only a bag of biscuits (consumed on the first day), two casks of water (lost overboard during fighting the second day), and a few casks of wine.

This raft carried the survivors to the frontiers of the human experience.  Crazed, parched and starved, they slaughtered mutineers, ate their dead companions and killed the weakest.

After 13 days, the raft was rescued by the Argus.  Only 15 men remained alive.  The event became an international scandal due to the newly restored French monarchy being held culpable.  Here is the Wiki link to more about the aftermath, trials and government corruption.

Theodore Gericault, 1791-1824

Enter stage left, Theodore Gericault, an inspired painter, whose obsession with the story of the Meduse changed the course of his existence.  With his personal life in turmoil after breaking-off an affair with his aunt; Gericault shaved his head and lived a disciplined monastic existence at his studio in the Faubourgh du Roule, from November 1818 to July 1819; the orderly studio artist worked by a methodical fashion in complete silence, finding that even the sound of a mouse was sufficient to break his concentration.

Gericault undertook extensive research and produced many preparatory sketches.  He interviewed two survivors, Henri Savigny and Alexandre Correard; another of the survivors, Lavillette, helped him construct an accurately detailed scale model of the raft which was reproduced on the finished canvas.

Earlier travels had exposed Gericault to the victims of insanity and plague; but his efforts to be historically accurate and realistic with the Meduse led to an obsession with the stiffness of corpses.  He went to morgues and hospitals where he could view first-hand the color and the texture of flesh in the dying and the dead.

The painting’s conception proved slow and difficult for Gericault, and he struggled to select a single pictorially effective moment to best capture the inherent drama of the event.  He considered the scenes of mutiny against the officers from the second day on the raft, the cannibalism that occurred after only a few days, and the rescue.  An early study for the Raft, in watercolor, now in the Louvre, is much more explicit, depicting a figure gnawing on the arm of a headless corpse

The pallid bodies are given cruel emphasis in a Caravaggio style, one group writhes in the elation of hope, while others are unaware of the passing ship; the latter include two figures of despair and solitude; one mourning his son, the other bewailing his own fate.  Eugene Delacroix, friend and artistic peer, modeled for two figures.

Eugene Delacroix

The paintings first appearance was at the Paris Salon of 1819, sponsored by the new monarchy of Louis XVIII.  Passionate praise and condemnation in equal measure poured forth, and the reputation Gericault sought was established.  At the end of the exhibition he received a gold medal but the judges refrained from giving the work the greater prestige of being selected for the Louvre’s national collection.  Instead the artist was awarded a commission on the subject of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which he clandestinely offered to Delacroix, and then signed the finished painting as his own.  Gericault retreated to the countryside where he collapsed from exhaustion, and his magnum opus, having found no buyer, was rolled up and stored in a friend’s studio.  The Raft of the Meduse was acquired by the Louvre soon after the artist’s death at the age of 32.

The painting remains one of the greatest witnesses of human indifference to the suffering of others.

Removing the Raft of the Medusa from the Louvre

The Raft may have been consigned to dominate a gallery at the Louvre, but another turbulent time approached; where cultural identity was being erased in conquered countries as the Nazi forces overtook Europe; the scale of what was occurring in this photograph caught my attention while perusing the history section of Pinterest.  The immense undertaking at the Louvre to save the cultural heritage of France mirrored the urgency of the ship wrecked survivors to save themselves from certain enslavement, no matter the cost.

In the autumn of 1939, scenery trucks from the Comedie Francaise were brought in to move the biggest paintings.  Although several had been rolled, the Raft was too fragile.  The trucks left the Louvre at six in the evening, just as the cover of darkness was falling.  The careful planning had gone to  meticulous lengths to include measuring all the bridges between Paris and Chambord, but the trolley lines of the town of Versailles had been overlooked, and the Raft became hopelessly ensnared in the crackling wires.  Magdeleine Hours, sent off in total darkness to wake her colleagues at the Palace of Versailles, vividly described the terrifying task of finding the doorbell, somewhere on the vast entrance.

In the end, the Raft and some of its companions were left in the Orangerie.  Chief curator Rene Huyghe rescued them some weeks later, accompanied by a team of post office employees who carried long insulated poles to raise any threatening wires.  The Raft of Medusa eventually reached the Chateau Chambord where it remained until after the end of the Second World War.

I love the inspiration that comes from art, the motivation to seek explanations and stories drives me into the research. The experience of Theodore Gericault’s ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ was a reward I will not soon forget. Until next time,

MJ

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