A Tour of the Plantin-Moretus Museum1.
The whole west side of the Vrijdagmarkt in Antwerpen is taken up by the Plantin-Moretus Museum and the Stedelijk Prentenkabinet (Municipal Gallery of Prints). The latter was erected in 1936, but the splendid façade of the Museum is a typical eighteenth-century construction in golden-yellow Grimberg stone. This beautiful stone was hidden for almost a century and a half under a thick coating of plaster. The plaster was removed in 1903, when the opportunity was taken of restoring the right half of the façade in grey Euville stone. The Antwerp architect Engelbert Baets drew up the plans for this frontage in 1761. It is only one room deep and is joined on to the older parts of the building enclosing the courtyard.
Above the main door the figures of a woman and of Hercules stand sentinel on either side of a shield bearing Plantin's famous compasses and his equally celebrated device Labore et Constantia. The Antwerp sculptor Artus Quellin executed this work in 1640 for Balthasar I Moretus. Originally it ornamented the entrance to the Bonte Huid in the Hoogstraat, but in 1644, at the request of Balthasar II, Quellin moved it to its present position where it has remained ever since, even surviving the explosion of 2nd January 1945 unharmed.
The entrance hall and staircase
On pedestals in the entrance hall stand marble busts of the two distinguished Antwerp citizens to whom the city and the civilized world owe the Plantin-Moretus Museum, namely Jonker Edward Moretus, last owner of the house, portrayed by Robert Fabri, and Leopold de Wael, burgomaster of Antwerp at the time, by Eugène van der Linden.
Turning right the visitor enters the great hall which is situated in the eighteenth-century part of the building. A monumental stairway leads upstairs, but we remain on the ground floor. Ahead is an Apollo in white stone by the Brussels
sculptor Guillaume Godecharle (1750-1835) which had graced one of the rooms of the house since 1809. Over the doors are four panels of wood carved in basrelief by the Antwerp artist Daniel Herreyns in 1781. On the ceiling over the staircase, about fifty feet above the floor, is a fresco representing an eagle with outstretched wings. It was painted in 1763 by Theodoor de Bruyn, an Antwerp painter of Dutch parentage. He was also responsible for the five wall paintings which give the eighteenth-century drawing-room opening into the hall its particular atmosphere.1.
Leaving these eighteenth-century surroundings, the visitor enters the seventeenth-century part of the Museum.
The Tapestry Room (Room 1)
The walls of this small and peaceful room are actually hung with tapestries - rare and beautiful sixteenth-century Brussels work, contained in a seventeenth-century border. The coat of arms of the Losson-van Hove family is woven into this border, but so are Plantin's compasses. A possible explanation is that a Moretus bought the tapestries from the Losson-van Hove family and had the compasses worked into the still unfinished border. The hangings were cut up to fit them into the room for which their new owners intended them. In 1922 new sections were woven to join up the tapestries on either side of the two doors of the room.
The name ‘Thomyris’ is woven in the dress of one of the characters depicted, showing that the work represents scenes from the life of the Queen of the Massagetes - or of the great Persian king Cyrus whom she defeated and killed.
Above the fireplace hangs an early copy of Rubens's famous painting The Lion Hunt (the original is in the Munich Pinakothek), which has ornamented the Plantinian house since at least 1658. In the middle of the room is a fine tortoiseshell table, of seventeenth-century Antwerp manufacture. Between the windows that look out onto the courtyard stands a small oak sideboard in Flemish Renaissance style on which is displayed Chinese porcelain.
The sculptured corbels which here, as in most of the Museum rooms, carry the main roof-beams display the two symbols that are repeated all through the building. These are alternately Plantin's compasses, representing his motto Labore
et Constantia - the moving point symbolizing toil (labor) and the fixed point steadfastness (constantia), and the star of the Moretuses. When, after the fashion of his time, Jan I Moretus was looking for some symbol that would contain an allusion to his name he chose the Rex Morus, the Moorish king who, with the other two Magi, came to worship the Holy Child. As his device he adopted Ratione Recta, meaning that he took good principles as his guide, just as the Magi had had a star to lead them to Jesus. When Balthasar I succeeded his father, however, he replaced the Moorish king by the star itself and chose as his motto Stella Duce (the star as my guide), which fitted the new symbol while retaining the spirit of his father's device.
The Great Drawing-Room (Room 2)
This drawing-room could equally well be called the first Rubens room. On the damask-draped walls hang a dozen paintings, of which ten - portraits of Plantin and the early Moretuses, their wives and friends - are from the hand of the great Antwerp master. Rubens was a close friend of Balthasar I and the house has many reminders of the brilliant artist and his work.
The rooms also contain two notable seventeenth-century Flemish cabinets. To the right of the fireplace is a very precious example in tortoise-shell, rosewood, and ebony, with twenty-three Biblical scenes painted on white marble. To the left there is a simpler but very graceful piece in rosewood, inlaid with niello-work in pewter. The Plantin compasses appear on one of the inner doors; on the outer door the initials LVO are to be seen, the meaning of which remains obscure. Among the objects standing on this cabinet is a silver-gilt clock in the form of a bell-tower. According to a Moretus tradition it was given to the family by the Archdukes Albert and Isabella.
The Drawings and Manuscript Room (Room 3)
The third and last room in this wing is also draped with damask and contains a number of notable paintings of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Here too is displayed a treasured part of the Museum collections, namely the drawings and manuscripts.
The Museum's collection of old drawings is not extraordinarily large - it numbers about 650 works - but is of its kind very interesting, if not unique. It comprises designs for book illustrations, the sketches to which the woodblocks and copperplates for Plantinian works were cut. They are drawings by the greatest Antwerp masters of the time, including Rubens himself, but only the lesser divinities are represented here as Room 19 has been dedicated specially to Rubens.
On the other side of the room a selection of rare manuscripts can be admired, dating from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries. They are interesting for the
history and development of Latin scripts as well as for the techniques employed by the medieval illuminators. Many of them are also of great intrinsic value to textual criticism of old authors.
The most beautiful specimens are displayed in separate showcases: Froissart's Chronicle in three parts, the title-pages of which are splendid examples of Flemish fifteenth-century manuscript illumination and, even more magnificent, the two volumes of the King Wenceslas Bible, 1401-02, one of the most impressive works produced by illuminators of the Bohemian school at its height.
The pleasant vaulted cloisters around part of the courtyard can be reached from Room 3, past the Lion Stairs - so-called because of the lion on the newel supporting the arms of Balthasar III and his wife Anna Maria de Neuf. It was carved by Pauwel Diricx in 1621. Balthasar III was only ennobled in 1692, so that the lion must presumably have guarded other emblems until then - probably the Plantinian compasses or the Moretus star, or both of these.
The courtyard acquired its present form between 1620 and 1622, and between 1637 and 1639, under Balthasar I Moretus, but the south and west walls still date partly from Plantin's time. These earliest parts of the house are seen to advantage from the cloisters.
Busts of the early masters of the Officina Plantiniana, Plantin, Jan I and Jan II Moretus, and of their friend the great humanist Justus Lipsius, are set into the walls. Artus Quellin made the bust of Jan II in 1644; Hans van Mildert executed the others in 1621. The bust of Jan II had to be replaced by a copy in 1883 as it had suffered badly from rain and frost, and the same had to be done for those of Plantin and Lipsius in 1942. The originals are now displayed in various rooms of the Museum.
From a little further on the east wall can be admired, and on it a bust of Balthasar I sculpted by Artus Quellin in 1642. From the courtyard itself the busts of later masters of the house can be seen on the wall above the cloisters: Balthasar II (by Peter Verbruggen, 1683), flanked by Balthasar IV, 1730, and Joannes Jacobus, 1757. In a small passage, invisible from this side of the courtyard, is the bust of Balthasar III by Joannes Claudius de Cock, 1700, set in a richly embellished shield.
With trim flowerbeds, and the vine which according to tradition was planted by Plantin himself - the root-stock at all events is of great age - the courtyard and cloisters are a peaceful place, steeped in the atmosphere of the Flemish Renaissance.
Before entering the first door on the right which leads via a passage to the shop, the visitor should note the beautiful seventeenth-century pump in blue marble with a copper spout.
The Shop (Room 4)
Along the walls are shelves of books and in the centre is a long counter. On it stands a money balance and some boxes of weights: in spite of stringent monetary laws, the clipping of coins was a common activity in those days, against which merchants needed to be forearmed. There are neat piles of loose sheets - works could be sold in this way, in albis as it was called. On the wall is an index of prohibited books (printed by Plantin in 1569) and a list of schoolbook prices fixed by the Antwerp authorities. This is a seventeenth-century bookshop!
In fact the modern visitor enters this shop at the wrong end, as the customers used the door in the Heilig Geeststraat. As the shop is level with the courtyard, they had to climb a few steps to get into the room. The office in the room behind the shop can be seen through a glass partition.
The Back Room of the Shop (Room 5)
This room has a desk, at which the book-keeper must have sat enthroned on his three-legged stool, a Flemish sideboard dated 1653 and a table of the same period.
The Tapestry Drawing-Room (Room 6)
A side door in the office leads into a drawing-room, the walls of which are covered by Audenarde tapestries, the so-called verdures. The rest of the furniture is such as would be found in any seventeenth-century patrician drawing-room: a massive Dutch sideboard, a smaller Flemish one with some china, a table, chairs and a large painting over the fireplace.
The exit is framed by two beautifully carved pillars with ornamentation in early Flemish Renaissance style (c. 1550).
Genesis and History of the Book (Room 7)
The appearance of a book on the market is the result of many operations. In a number of show-cases in this room are assembled the various materials and equipment which used to be necessary for the production of a book, including an author's manuscript ready for press - the starting point of the whole process; the punches, matrices, and the moulds needed for casting the type - the basis of the whole craft of printing; the woodblocks and copperplates for illustrations; and the sticks, galleys and other tools used by the compositor. The display endeavours to show the different stages in the making of a book: composing; printing; the special processes of red-and-black printing; the correction of galley-proofs; the folding of the sheets into pages; and the binding.
Other show-cases illustrate the evolution of the book from the time of Gutenberg (c. 1450) to the end of the eighteenth century, showing its changing characteristics through these centuries. Here can be seen how type was influenced by script; how the incunabula gradually moved away from the manuscript tradition; and
how the title-page grew and developed. A few cases are devoted to printing and the book trade in the sixteenth century. These exhibits deal with inventories of type, book catalogues, relations with authorities and censors, and ‘privileges’ as a protection against pirate editions.
The Kitchen (Room 8)
If the visitor returns to the courtyard and follows the continuation of the cloisters, he will come to the old wash-house of Plantin and the Moretuses. It has now been furnished and decorated as an old Flemish kitchen in the Antwerp style. On the table are a number of utensils which were found in a concealed well in one of the cellars.
The Correctors' Room (Room 9)
The door-case of this room, carved by Pauwel Diricx, bears the date 1638. The room was in fact built in 1637-38 on what had formerly been the backyard of the Bonte Huid. After being used as a shop and an office, it was furnished as a proof-readers' room at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Consequently the chief item of furniture is the large writing table placed against the wall under the two windows. It has built-in seats with high backs that screen off the whole ensemble. It still bears the traces of its centuries of use, for the oak platform on which it rests is deeply worn by the continual shuffling in and out of the proof-readers.
A modern bust of Cornelis Kiel (Kilianus) and a portrait of Frans Raphelengius (a copy by A. Thijs after the original in Leiden University) recall two of Plantin's foremost correctors and assistants.
Seventeenth-century sideboards and other pieces of furniture complete the interior. On one of the walls is a fine sixteenth-century genre painting, A Scholar at Work (probably Adriaan van de Venne, though it has often been attributed to Pieter van der Borcht, one of Plantin's best draughtsmen and engravers). It was long thought to represent Cornelis Kiel. Over the fireplace hangs another beautiful work, St. Paul at the house of St. Aquila and St. Priscilla, by an anonymous seventeenth-century painter.
The Office (Room 10)
At this point the visitor enters the oldest section of the house, the part that Plantin knew. In spite of the rich Malines gilt leather on the wall and the large painting of Christ and the Woman of Samaria by Erasmus Quellin, it is at once apparent that this is the office of a businessman. As evidence of this there is an oak desk, a portable desk reinforced with strips of iron, a small iron coffer, a money balance and a letter-rack fixed into the wall. The fact that it was thought necessary to put iron bars over the windows shows clearly enough that large sums of money were handled here through the years.
Plantin himself worked in this office. After Balthasar I's building schemes and the attendant reorganization of the working space, this little room became known as the ‘small office’ to distinguish it from the new ‘big office’. When the latter was made into the correctors' room (Room 9) the ‘small office’ once more became the nerve-centre of the Officina Plantiniana.
The Justus Lipsius Room (Room 11)
This is one of the most intimate rooms of the Museum. It is hung with superb and very rare guadamacil, sixteenth-century Spanish gilt leather which clearly shows its Moorish origin in its graceful arabesque motifs (the leather on the wall on the courtyard side and on the adjoining wall next to the entrance has been restored).
The Justus Lipsius room was not given its name by the curators: the Moretuses rechristened Plantin's vriendenkamer or guest room in the early seventeenth century. It was here that the great Flemish humanist, a close friend of Plantin and Jan I Moretus, used to work during his many visits to the house.
Various paintings remind the visitor of the scholar. Over the entrance door hangs a portrait of him at the age of 38 by an anonymous sixteenth-century master, and over the fireplace is an early copy of Rubens's Justus Lipsius and his Pupils, the original of which is in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence. Here the humanist can be seen with his two favourite pupils -Jan Woverius, the archducal councillor, and Philip Rubens, the artist's brother. In the background, looking on at the lesson, stands the great painter himself. Finally, on one of the walls hangs Rubens's portrait of the Roman philosopher Seneca, whom Lipsius greatly admired and whose bust appears in the previous painting.
The Humanists' Room (Room 12)
This small room is in fact also dedicated to Justus Lipsius. Books and documents connected with the scholar are exhibited here. As has already been mentioned, he was a welcome guest in the Plantinian house so that it is hardly surprising that the Museum possesses a unique and extensive collection of Lipsius documents, including no less than 130 of his letters. On the wall is the bust of Justus Lipsius which originally ornamented the courtyard.
The Type Room (Room 13)
This former store-room of the officina is reached through a narrow passage where can be seen the bust of Plantin which originally gazed down on the courtyard. Along the walls and up to the ceiling are shelves filled with type-cases. Lower down are the reserve stocks of metal type in their original packing. On the mantelpiece are three eighteenth-century wooden statuettes representing Honour, Virtue, and Doctrine.
The Printing Office (Room 14)
This room once formed the bustling centre of the Plantin House. Today this corner of the Museum still has its own special atmosphere. Five presses dating; from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries stand along one side of the room. In spite of their venerable age they are perfectly preserved and in full working order. In fact Plantin's celebrated sonnet ‘Le Bonheur de ce monde’ is still printed on one of them; the original impression, from the time of the great printer, can be seen in one of the following rooms.
Against the farther wall, under a seventeenth-century terracotta of the Virgin of Loreto, stand two presses which look much more time-worn than the others. They are of an older type and probably date from Plantin's day, although at a later date, possibly between 1620 and 1640, they were fitted with a technical refinement known as the ‘Blaeu-yoke’. They are two splendid relics of a glorious past, and the oldest presses known to have been preserved. To the right of these are shelves with all kinds of printing implements and a fine press for printing copperplates dating from 1714.
Opposite the row of presses are the type-cases, where the old type cast in the time of Plantin and the Moretuses still seem to be waiting for the compositors to set them into their sticks, for the printing of the masterpieces which won the Officina Plantiniana its world renown and found a ready market from Mexico to China, and from Denmark to Morocco.
After leaving the printing office the visitor comes once more to the entrance and the well of the stairs. This time he ascends these stairs with their beautiful carved foot. He has left the sixteenth-century portion of the house and entered the eighteenth-century front. On the first-floor landing is a Louis Quinze clock and a painting by Sporckmans, The Carmelite Order confirmed by the Pope, which until 1769 hung in the monastery church of the Discalced Carmelites in Antwerp.
The First Plantin Room (Room 15)
This is reached by turning left from the landing. Immediately on entering this room the visitor sees a portrait of the great printer by an anonymous sixteenth-century master. The painting by Rubens in Room 2 is a copy after this portrait. Further on is another anonymous work - a miniature portrait, also of the sixteenth century. Over the fireplace hangs an embossed leather bas-relief, Christ before Caiaphas, signed Justin (possibly Justin Mathieu, 1796-1864). Show-cases give an outline of Plantin's life, illustrated by his works and by documents from the Plantinian archives.
The Second Plantin Room (Room 16)
Plantin's life and works can be traced further in the show-cases in this room. On the walls hang portraits of the immediate family and descendants of the first master of the Gulden Passer. Against one of the walls stands a beautiful Boule cabinet with its companion clock.
The Little Library (Room 17)
At this point the visitor enters the seventeenth-century section of the house again. This library is a peaceful little room containing part of the Museum collection of books. A wooden statuette of the Madonna gazes down from over the exit door.
The Moretus Room (Room 18)
This is devoted to Plantin's successors. A number of family portraits hang on the wooden partitions. Five terracotta busts of masters of the house stand on pedestals between the windows, sketches for the busts in the courtyard. There is also a freestone bust of Jan II Moretus which originally had a place in the courtyard but had to be replaced by a copy. The show-cases contain various books and documents illustrating the lives and activities of the Moretuses.
The Rubens Room (Room 19)
Across the small corridor is the room dedicated to Sir Peter Paul Rubens, the great master of the Flemish Baroque. Rubens painted many portraits for his good friend Balthasar I Moretus. A number of these have already been referred to (Room 2); there are five more in this room. It is quite possible, however, that these five are mainly the work of pupils of Rubens.
Rubens did not only paint portraits for his friend. He also worked for him as a book-illustrator, drawing many designs for Plantinian editions from which copperplates were engraved. In particular he evolved a new style of title-page which was avidly copied and ushered in a new period in the history of this art form. A number of these designs and many of the copperplates are preserved in the Museum, some of them being exhibited here, together with a few receipts signed by Rubens and one of Balthasar I's ledgers in which his financial transactions with his friend are entered.
Above the mantelpiece which Pauwel Diricx carved in 1640 hangs a painting representing the Plantinian Compasses by an anonymous seventeenth-century artist. The carved door-case framing the exit door is another piece of work by Diricx, dating from 1640: Balthasar I wanted an impressive entrance to his library which from 1640/41 until about 1675 was housed in the two following rooms (Rooms 20 and 21).
The Antwerp Printers' Room (Room 20)
Antwerp occupies an honoured place in the history of printing in the Netherlands - and not only by virtue of the fact that Christophe Plantin lived within its walls.
The art of printing reached the city at an early date, the first book being printed there in 1481. In the so-called incunabula period, Antwerp was just one of a number of equally important printing centres. At the end of the fifteenth century its great period of prosperity began; Antwerp's Golden Age, in printing as well as commerce. Between 1500 and 1540 more than half the books published in the Netherlands came off Antwerp presses. This represents 80 per cent of the total production of the Southern Netherlands (i.e. modern Belgium). During the second half of the sixteenth century - Plantin's period - Antwerp's share of the national output must have been still higher, and the international character of the market was more strongly marked.
The Antwerp printers maintained their international reputation through the seventeenth century, but as the city's economy began to decline, so did the printing trade. For Antwerp typography the eighteenth century was a period of decay and mediocrity. This process can be followed century by century through the show-cases.
On the walls hang portraits of Antwerp and foreign scholars whose works were published in the city. Most of them had close relations with Plantin and the Moretuses. Against the wall, beside the exit door, is the seventeenth-century 'Red Lion' of the Verdussens, the other eminent Antwerp printing family who, like the Moretuses, were active from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. This sign, sculptured in terracotta, was donated to the Museum by one of the last descendants of the family.
The Drawing-Room (Room 21)
Another seventeenth-century salon which contains, however, a number of eighteenth-century pieces. It is hung with rare gilt leather. On the walls are some family portraits and a Louis Quinze clock. Over the mantelpiece, carved by Pauwel Diricx in 1640, is a late seventeenth-century landscape by the Antwerp painter Peter Verdussen. An eighteenth-century glass case contains earthenware, glass and porcelain which belonged to the Moretuses (the family arms can be seen on some of the pieces), together with two beautiful little pieces of seventeenth-century Flemish ivory work, St. George and St. Martin.
In one corner of the room stands a musical instrument of remarkable construction. This fine piece is actually a combination of two instruments, a harpsichord and a spinet, and was built by J.J. Coenen at Roermond in 1734. The painting inside the lid, St. Cecilia playing the Organ, is an adaptation of Rubens's St. Cecilia playing a Harpsichord.
The Archives Room (Room 22)
This little room is also hung with Malines gilt leather. Various paintings hang on the walls and over the fireplace. The show-cases display a few documents from the abundant Plantinian records which form such an inexhaustible source of information for the history of the house, of the art of printing and, more generally, for the economic, social and cultural history of the Low Countries.
The Geography Room (Room 23)
The Low Countries have played an important part in scientific geography and cartography. In about 1540 the Southern Netherlands took the leadership in this field from Italy and Germany, enjoying until 1590 international fame and influence through such scholars as Gemma Frisius, Mercator and Ortelius - and once again Antwerp was pre-eminent in the South. In the seventeenth century the leadership passed to the Northern Netherlands. In no other period has a single country dominated the world market so completely: Frenchmen, Englishmen, Spaniards and Italians, not to mention other peoples, had to go to Dutch publishers if they wanted reliable maps of their own territories and seas. Then in the eighteenth century France broke the Dutch monopoly.
In this room are shown a few representative pieces from the Netherlands illustrating their period of pre-eminence in this important and specialized branch of printing. The significance and influence of the sixteenth-century South Netherlands cartographers is emphasized by certain examples, which show how they knew the Congo better than their successors of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and were also well informed about the East African lakes, supposedly discovered by Livingstone, Stanley and others of their contemporaries; and how Gemma Frisius, Mercator and Ortelius became the promoters of the first polar expeditions - albeit by inaccurate representations on their maps.
Two wall maps merit particular attention: one of Flanders by Mercator (1540) and the large map of Antwerp by Virgilius Boloniensis and Cornelius Grapheus (1565), two remarkable products of sixteenth-century Flemish cartography, of which no other copies are known. Also worthy of note are two rare globes, one terrestrial and one celestial, made by Armand-Florent van Langeren, the great seventeenth-century South Netherlands spherographer. The globe of the world is important for the history of exploration.
The Foreign Printers' Room (Room 24)
The Museum libraries contain not only Plantinian and other Antwerp works, but also an important number of publications produced elsewhere. A few of the most beautiful pieces from this collection are displayed here, arranged according to century and country to show the various period and regional characteristics. The Southern Netherlands except Antwerp, the Northern Netherlands, France,
Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain are represented. The gem of the collection, the 36-line Gutenberg Bible, naturally holds pride of place in one of the display-cases.
On one of the walls is an enormous copper-engraving depicting The Triumphal Entry of the Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII into Bologna (24th February 1530) by J.N. Hogenberg. On the opposite wall are ordinances printed in the Officina Phntiniana, together with a seventeenth-century copper-engraving representing the siege and relief of Vienna in 1683, given to M. Rooses by Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria after his visit to the Museum.
The Small Drawing-Room (Room 25)
This room is hung with Malines gilt leather and contains two paintings: the portrait of Edward Moretus, last owner of the Plantin House, by J. Delin, 1879, and St. Joseph with the Holy Child, a late seventeenth-century work by Jacob Leyssens.
A few show-cases containing woodblocks give a foretaste of the theme - book illustration - of the next room but one (Room 27).
The Bedroom (Room 26)
This room is also hung with Malines gilt leather. It contains typical seventeenth-century bedroom furniture: a carved oak bed with a tester in the same wood, a washstand, a chest of drawers surmounted by a mirror, a prie-dieu above which is a palmwood effigy of Christ, and a few paintings.
The Book Illustration Room (Room 27)
The woodblock and copperplate dominated book illustration until the rise of lithography at the very end of the eighteenth century and photography in the nineteenth. Copper-engraving, although known as early as the fifteenth century, initially took second place to the woodcut as a medium of illustration. Plantin worked chiefly with woodblocks. From the middle of the sixteenth century, however, copper-engraving began to make headway. Plantin was one of the first in the Netherlands, and perhaps in the whole typographical world, to use this technique on a large scale. In this he was immediately imitated everywhere so that during the seventeenth century the woodcut was almost completely superseded by the copper-engraving. Of the illustrations used by Plantin and the Moretuses, about 15,000 woodblocks and 3,000 copperplates are preserved in the Museum. It is a unique collection which provides a splendid survey of the various schools of graphic art in Antwerp.
In this room are displayed a number of important works by these Antwerp masters, together with a short historical introduction to wood-engraving in the second half of the fifteenth century, illustrated by rare incunabula.
The visitor now passes through an alcove room (Room 28), retraces his steps to the Small Drawing-Room (Room 25) and from there takes the stairs leading to the foundry.
The Foundry Work Room (Room 29)
A bench along the wall, an anvil, vices, grindstones, bellows, files, wooden rulers, vases, small pots and boxes - all are in their places as if the old type-founders had just left this workshop.
The Foundry (Room 30)
The visitor may wonder why this type-foundry was installed on the second floor; unlike most of the upstairs rooms, this one has a stone floor so that the risk of fire was somewhat lessened.
What immediately catches the eye are the smelting furnaces and also the tools which the founders needed to have to hand when working lead.
The foundry was set up by Balthasar I Moretus after he had had this wing built in 1620-1622. It was in use, except for a few intervals, until the end of the eighteenth century and thereafter was lovingly preserved in working order. It is a unique example of an old type-foundry.
It was here that the lead printing types were cast. Punches, matrices, and moulds were necessary for casting these letters. The technique was as follows: designs were drawn and from them letters were engraved in relief in steel bars; these were the punches. These punches were struck into little copper blocks (very occasionally lead blocks were used), producing matrices. These had to be touched up until the punch impression was of uniform depth. The actual founding could then begin. The adjusted matrix was fixed in a mould which was then filled with molten lead. The mould was opened and the lead letter was ready; or rather, almost ready, for it still needed a few finishing touches before it could be used. These various processes are illustrated in one of the display-cases.
Plantin did not design or cut type himself. He bought his matrices and punches from the best Flemish and French specialists of his time - and in such large quantities that the Moretuses only needed to provide themselves with a few new sorts. Many of the punches and matrices bought by Plantin have survived centuries of intensive use. The Museum still possesses about 20,000 matrices and about 5,000 punches representing some 80 different sorts of types and bodies, including Roman, Italic, Gothic, Greek, Hebrew, Samaritan, Ethiopian, Syriac, music-type and the peculiar script type known as Civilité. Again it is a unique collection of its kind, and many of its items are on view in the showcases. The sixteenth-century punch-boxes with their attractively painted lids are particularly notable.
The Large Library (Room 31)
This is reached by descending the small staircase. Although spacious and lined from floor to ceiling with shelves that are filled with books, this library contains only part of the Museum's collection of pre-1800 printed works.
Balthasar I Moretus originally set up this library of the masters of the Golden Compasses in two upstairs rooms of the west wing (Rooms 20 and 21). Around 1675 it was transferred to this and the adjoining room (Room 32). The shelves inside the low barrier date from this time.
For a long time this library was used as a private chapel where the Moretuses and their workpeople heard Mass before starting their day's work. The altar has disappeared, but on the wall where it stood there still hangs the painting which served as an altarpiece: Christ on the Cross, attributed to Peter Thijs (1624/6-1677/9). On the reading desks and other pieces of furniture are a celestial and a terrestrial globe and some seventeenth-century limewood busts of saints and popes.
The Second Library (Room 32)
contains more of the Museum's collection of books.
The Max Horn Room (Old Bookbindings) (Room 33)
The great Belgian bibliophile Max Horn, who was born in Antwerp on
6th June 1882 and died in Brussels on 2nd March 1953, bequeathed his collection to the Plantin-Moretus Museum. It has been installed in this room which bears his name: a unique collection of original or rare editions of French literary works of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in equally rare and precious bindings.
Examples of old bookbindings are displayed in cases on one side of the room. Great care has been bestowed on the binding of books through the ages. The technique, however, has varied. In the Netherlands the ‘blind stamping’ method of decorating book-covers was used until the early sixteenth century. Then the oriental technique of gold-tooling spread over Europe via Italy, nearly completely superseding blind stamping by the middle of the sixteenth century.
The Museum has very interesting specimens of both types of binding, and some of the most important of these are on display here. It boasts the earliest known panel-stamped binding, made in the thirteenth century by, or for, Wouter van Duffel, an Antwerp priest. This work is of great importance historically as it disproves the theory, held generally until recent years, that panel stamping did not develop until the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, and it also shows that this form of blind stamping had its origin in the Netherlands. There are other rare works to be admired in this room, including books which once belonged to the French kings Henry III and Louis XIV, and to Madame de Pompadour.
A few family portraits hang on the walls together with a gigantic woodcut
on vellum, The Triumphant Entry of the Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII into Bologna, by the Liège artist Robert Péril. It is the only known copy of this work and a woodcut counterpart of J.N. Hogenberg's copper-engraving in Room 24.
When he leaves this room the visitor is once more in the eighteenth-century part of the building, beside the great main staircase.
Collections of the Plantin-Moretus museum
Art Collections - These comprise about 150 paintings;1. also sculpture (see pp. 314-316), furniture (see pp. 308-310), gilt-leather hangings (see pp. 311-312), tapestries (see pp. 313-314), porcelain and ceramics.2.
Typographical Collections - These consist of seven printing presses; about 5,000 punches and about 20,000 matrices;3. moulds;4. about 650 drawings;5. further about 15,000 woodblocks and about 3,000 copperplates. All these collections are discussed in Vol. II.
The Library - This contains about 20,000 ‘old’ volumes (i.e. printed before 1800);6. a reference library of about 20,000 volumes;7. about 500 manuscripts;8. and bookbindings (see p. 357).
For the bibliographical and archival references, see above under the chapters devoted to the architectural history of the Plantin house and to its art collections.
This drawing-room has been rearranged into the ‘Salon Émile Verhaeren’. It contains now a very fine collection of paintings, drawings, books, letters, documents, and personal souvenirs of the great Belgian poet (1855-1916), a gift of René Vandevoir, President of the Court of Appeal at Douai (France). The ‘Salon Émile Verhaeren’ was inaugurated on 19th October 1966. On this occasion an illustrated catalogue Salon Émile Verhaeren: Don du Président René Vandevoir
was issued, containing an introduction by L. Craeybeckx, burgomaster of Antwerp, a necrology of René Vandevoir by A. Potier, and ‘Pages brèves sur l'Ensemble Verhaeren’ by R. Vandevoir. (The catalogue also appeared in Dutch.)
Manuscript catalogue by H.F. Bouchery. For the paintings see also pp. 316 sqq.
Manuscript catalogue (in Dutch and French) by C. van Herck. Cf. p. 311.
M. Parker and K. Melis, Inventaris van de stempels en matrijzen van het Museum Plantin-Moretus. Inventory of the Plantin-Moretus Museum punches and matrices
, 1960 (mimeographed copy; may be consulted at the Museum). The details were incorporated in M. Parker, K. Melis, and H.D.L. Vervliet, ‘Typographica Plantiniana. II. Early inventories of punches, matrices and moulds in the Plantin-Moretus archives’ in De Gulden Passer
, 38, 1960, pp. 1-139. Concerning this collection, see also Volume II.
The original collection consisted of 62 items. In 1956 the Museum received a further 200 old moulds from the Brussels type-foundry of Van der Borght.
Manuscript inventory and catalogue by F. van den Wijngaert (may be consulted at the Museum). For the botanical drawings, see F. van den Wijngaert, ‘De botanische teekeningen in het Museum Plantin-Moretus’ in De Gulden Passer
, 25, 1947, pp. 34-51.
There is an alphabetical card catalogue of authors and printers. For the library, see pp. 338 sqq.
There is an alphabetical card catalogue of authors and subjects.
J. Denucé, Musaeum Plantin-Moretus. Catalogue des manuscrits. Catalogus der handschriften
, 1927. Cf. also pp. 338 sqq.
J. Denucé, Musaeum Plantin-Moretus. Inventaris op het Plantijnsch archief, Inventaire des Archives plantiniennes