1902 Encyclopedia > Christophe Plantin

Christophe Plantin
French printer and typographer

CHRISTOPHE PLANTIN (1514-1589), born in a village near Tours (probably Saint-Avertin) in 1514, learned book-binding and book-selling at Caen, and, having mar-ried in that town, settled in 1549 as-bookbinder in Antwerp,, then the principal commercial town of the Netherlands, where he was soon known as the first in his profession. A bad wound in the arm, which unfitted him for this occupation, seems to have been the cause that first led him (about 1555) to apply himself to typography. The-first known book printed in his office was La Institua tione di una, fanciulla nata nobilmente, by J. M. Bruto,. with a French translation, and this was soon followed by many other works in French and Latin, which in point of execution rivalled the best printing of his time, while the masters in the art of engraving then flourishing in the Netherlands illustrated many of his editions. In 1562, Plantin himself being absent in Paris, his workmen printed an heretical pamphlet, which caused his movables to be seized and sold. It seems, however, that he recovered a great deal of the money, and in 1563 he associated himself with some friends to carry on his business on a larger scale. Among them were two grand-nephews of Dan. Bomberg, who furnished him with the fine Hebrew types of that renowned Venetian printer. He was now in a position to spare no expense in printing his books with all the care he deemed necessary; and his editions of the Bible in Hebrew, Latin, and Dutch, his Corpus Juris, Latin and Greek classics, and many other works produced at this period are renowned for their beautiful execution and accuracy. A much greater enterprise was planned by him in those years—the publication of a Biblia Polyglotta, which should fix the original text of Old and New Testaments on a scientific basis. In spite of clerical opposition he was supported by Philip II. king of Spain, who sent him the learned Benedictus Arias Montanus to take the leading part in the work of editorship. With his zealous help the work was finished in five years (1569-73, 8 vols. fol.). Plantin earned much renown by it, but little profit, or rather less than none ; but in compensation he received the privilege of printing all liturgical books for the states of King Philip, and the office of "prototypo-graphus regius," which carried with it the oversight over all printers in the Netherlands, a charge of which Plantin seems to have acquitted himself indifferently. This need not surprise us, when we know that Plantin, though outwardly a faithful son of the church, was till his death the partisan of a mystical sect of heretics; and it is now proved that many of their books published without the name of a printer came from his presses together with the missals, breviaries, &c, for the Roman Catholic Church.

Besides the polyglott Bible, Plantin published in those years many other works of note, such as editions of St Augustine and St Jerome, the botanical works of Dodonaeus, Clusius, and Lobelius, the description of the Netherlands by Guicciardini, &c. In 1575 his printing-office reckoned more than twenty presses and seventy-three workmen, besides a similar number that worked for the office at home. But soon there came bad times for Antwerp. In November 1576 the town was plundered and in part burnt by the Spaniards, and Plantin had to pay an exorbitant ransom. A great many inhabitants of the once flourishing city emigrated, and Plantin also thought of settling elsewhere. He established a branch of his office in Paris ; and when in 1583 the states of Holland sought a typographer for the newly erected university at Leyden, and invited him to occupy this place, he left his much reduced business in Antwerp to his sons-in-law John Moerentorf (Moretus) and Francis van Ravel-inghen (Raphelengius), and settled at Leyden. But he could not thrive, it seems, in Holland. When in 1585 Antwerp was taken by the prince of Parma and affairs became there more settled, he left the office in Leyden to Raphelengius and returned to Antwerp, excusing himself for having served the states of the revolted provinces by the difficulties of his situation. In Antwerp he laboured till his death on the 1st July 1589. His son-in-law, John Moretus, and his descendants continued to print many works of note " in officina Plantiniana," but from the second half of the 17th century the house began to decline. It continued, however, in the possession of the Moretus family, which religiously left all the old things in the office untouched, and when in 1876 the town of Antwerp acquired the old buildings with all their contents, for 1,200,000 francs, the authorities were able with little trouble to create one of the most remarkable museums in existence (Musée Plantin, opened 19th August 1877).

See Max Rooses, Christophe Plantin imprimeur Anversois, Antwerp, 1882 ; Aug. de Backer and Ch. Ruelens, Annales de l'imprimerie Plantinienne, Brussels, 1865 ; Degeorge, La maison Plantin, 2d ed., Brussels, 1878. (P. A. T.)

The above article was written by: P. A. Tiele.

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