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!
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
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.
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’ 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.
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.
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.
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!