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Christophe Plantin

Book-binder and publisher of Antwerp, b. 1514, at or near Tours (France); d. July 1, 1589, at Antwerp

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Plantin, CHRISTOHE, book-binder and publisher of Antwerp, b. 1514, at or near Tours (France); d. July 1, 1589, at Antwerp. The son of a servant, he learned the art of book-binding and printing (1535-40) with the prototypographer, Robert Mace II at Caen. At an early age he had already learned Latin and shown a pronounced taste for scientific books. After a short residence in Paris, he went to Antwerp (1548-9), where he opened a book-bindery and soon became famous for his beautiful inlaid bindings and book covers. In 1555 he opened his publishing house which, notwithstanding keen competition, soon prospered. Within five years, he attained the highest rank among typographers of his time, surpassing his rivals in the Netherlands by the perfection, beauty, and number of his publications. In 1562, charged with holding intercourse with two religious reformers (Niclaes and Barrefelt), he was obliged to flee from Antwerp. He succeeded, however, in dissipating the suspicions against him, and it was only after two centuries that his relations with the Familists, or “Famille de la Charite” came to light, and also that he printed the works of Barrefelt and other heretics. In 1563, having returned to Antwerp, Plantin formed business associations with prominent citizens with whom he conducted a printing establishment for three years. In 1566 we first hear of Plantin’s scheme to reprint the Polyglot Bible of Cardinal Ximenes. His beautiful proofs secured the support of King Philip II, and the eight volumes of the “Biblia Regia” were completed in 1573 (see Polyglot Bibles). Immediately after the king appointed him Royal Architypographer, in charge of the printing of the newly-edited breviaries, missals, psalters, and other liturgical texts which were sent to Spain in great numbers at the expense of the king. Plantin also published many new editions of the classics, works on jurisprudence, and the “Index Expurgatorius”. Wars stopped the execution of the king’s orders for the new Liturgical formularies; but Plantin had, long before, obtained privileges for this work from Rome. This exclusive privilege, possessed by Plantin’s successors for two hundred years, became a source of great profit and balanced the extensive losses incurred by the “Biblia Regia”. In 1583, leaving his business at Antwerp to his two nephews, Moretus and Raphelingen, Plantin settled in Leyden, where he conducted a second-hand book store and a small printing office with three presses, but sought principally for quiet and the restoration of his failing health. In 1585 Raphelingen took charge of the printing office at Leyden, and Plantin returned to Antwerp, where, until his death, he endeavored by the sale of his Bible to indemnify himself for the loss of the twenty thousand florins which the king still owed him. These losses were finally made good after his death.

The extensive character of Plantin’s undertakings is shown by the fact that between 1555 and 1589 he published over sixteen hundred works, eighty-three in 1575 alone. His press room at this time contained twenty-two presses. His editions, as a rule, consisted of from twelve to fifteen hundred copies, in some cases considerably more; thus thirty-nine hundred copies of his Hebrew Bible were published. His emblem shows a hand reaching out of the clouds holding a pair of compasses; one point is fixed, the other marks a line. The motto is “Labore et Constantia“. He was justly considered the first typographer of his time. Moreover, money was not his only object. He thoroughly appreciated the ethical side of his profession, as is proved by his publishing useful works, excelling in scientific value and artistic worth. The astonishing number of his publications, the extreme care which he devoted to the simplest as well as to the greatest of his publications, the monumental character of a whole series of his books, his good taste in their adornment, his correct judgment in the choice of subjects to be published, and his success in gaining the sympathy of his assistants prove that his fame was well deserved. There is but one blot on Plantin’s reputation, his relations with the “Famine de la Charite”, which can only be explained as due to the unsettled conditions of the times. His Antwerp business remained in the possession of his second daughter, Martina, wife of Johannes Moerentorf (Latinized Moretus), who was his assistant for many years. Their son, Balthasar, a friend of Rubens in his youth, was the most famous of the Moretus name, and a worthy successor to his grandfather. After the death of Balthasar in 1641, his heirs made a great fortune out of their monopoly of Liturgical books. Unfortunately they abandoned almost entirely the publication of scientific books. It was only at the beginning of 1800 that the privilege ceased in consequence of the decree of the King of Spain, forbidding the importation of foreign books and this practically put an end to the printing house of Plantin. In 1867, after three hundred and twelve years, the firm of Plantin ceased to exist. The City of Antwerp and the Government of Belgium in 1876 purchased from the last owner, Edward Moretus, all the buildings, as well as the printing house with its appurtenances and collections for 1,200,000 florins. The entire plant was converted into the Plantin-Moretus Museum.



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