Plantin- Moretus Museum The Oldest Surviving Printing Press In The World
The ‘Plantin-Moretus’ is the Antwerp based museum, which served as a printing plant during the ‘Renaissance’ & ‘Baroque’ periods. The museum was the former residence & the printing establishment of the 16th century’s legendary printers Christophe Plantin & Jan Moretus. The museum commemorates the history of invention & spread of typography across the Europe.
‘Antwerp’, along with ‘Paris’ & ‘Venice’, had taken the lead in the field of printing in all over the Europe. The ‘Plantin-Morteus Museum’ complex is the testimonial of the life & work of one of the most prominent printing & publishing houses in Europe during the late 16th century. In 2005, the museum was included by UNESCO in the list of ‘World Heritage Sites’.
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
An old town of ‘Antwerp’ was founded in the 9th century & significantly extended during the 13th & the 14th century. The 15th century onwards, printing became a prolific business in the city & by the mid-16th century; some 140 printers, booksellers & publishers had settled in the town. The town then became an important center of the book business in the northern Europe & one of the most important capitals of the European typography.
In 1555, ‘Christophe Plantin’ moved to ‘Antwerp’ & took up the residence in the mansion (which has now been recognized as the museum) to set up a printing & publishing firm. The firm was identified as the ‘Officina Plantiniana’ & consisted of a complex of workshops & a patrician residence. Soon after establishment, the firm became the largest typographical company in the entire Europe & played an invaluable role in making the city a powerhouse of the book business across the continent.
In 1589, following the death of Plantin, his son-in-law Jan Moretus I (1543-1610) took the charge of the company, which by then had become the best equipped printing company in the Europe. The ‘Moretus’ family, then looked after the production activities diligently until 1867. The plan of the building was so accurate that the same functions carried out in the same places till the culmination of the firm.
In 1876, Edward Moretus sold the company to the ‘Belgian state’ & the city of ‘Antwerp’ & one year later, it was opened for the public to visit the residential areas & printing presses in the mansion. ‘Edward Moretus’ (1804-1880) was the last printer & publisher of his family & he was forced to shut down the 300 year old legacy since the company failed to cope up with the modernization of the printing technology.
On 19 August 1877, ‘Plantin-Moretus Museum’ was inaugurated by the Belgian government. In 1947, extensive restoration work was carried out to fix the damage caused in WWII. A flying bomb destroyed the house built in 1580 on the south side & the façade of the Eastern wing.
The museum comprises the oldest surviving printing press in the world & it possesses a remarkable collection of typographical equipment, including complete sets of dies & matrices. The museum also houses a rich library, ornate interior & the complete archives of the ‘Plantin-Moretus’ business. The archived documents have the historical significance & in 2001, it was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program.
The museum also contains the exceptional drawings of the famous artist Peter Paul Rubens, which are considered as the eminent work of Baroque publishing. The international reputation & the quality of the books of the ‘Officina Plantiniana’ led to the visits by myriad reputed personalities, including Queen Christiana of Sweden in 1654.
The ‘Plantin-Moretus Museum’ complex testifies the major role played by ‘Antwerp’ in the development of science & culture in Europe during the 16th century. The archives of commercial accounts & the correspondence with the reputed scholars & humanists demonstrate the commercial & cultural tradition thriving in Europe in the 16th, the 17th & the 18th century. The museum complex is an unmatched example of the life in Europe during the most important phase of the European history- the Renaissance, the Baroque & the Classicism!
This incredible former residence of the legendary family of printers & publishers has been known as the ‘Golden Compass’ since it sits right in the heart of the ancient nucleus of the city unfolding the anecdotes of its glorious past & its invaluable contribution in the history of printing & publishing!