Vrijdagmarkt 22, Antwerp
The Plantin-Moretus museum reopened on October 1, 2016. As an ICOM member, I was invited to visit the renovated museum together with the director and staff. The reason was the new arrangement of the exhibitions and the new reading room and depots. There is a new building in Heilige Geeststraat with the reading room on the ground floor and the depots on the floors. This way the works are safe in case of a flood. Unfortunately, this new building was not on the program. It handled only the new setup. With a very experienced guide, we discovered the two floors of the museum in two hours.
In 2005, the museum was the first museum to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It even has reinforced protection. This means that in an armed conflict, people are asked to stay on a safe perimeter of the building. It is the only one in Flanders and there are only 10 buildings in the world that enjoy the same protection.
The new setup focuses more on who Christopher Plantin really was. It handles the top books he published, what he meant for European history and why he chose Antwerp. Let me tell you a few things… Around 1550, the French Christopher arrives in Antwerp, when the city was in its golden age. In the 16th and 17th centuries, this printing house was the most important in Europe. In 1575, there was a record of 16 manual printing presses in the printing house. By comparison, the main printer from France only had 4. After the Spanish fury, Plantin had to rebuild his printing house. But 3 years later he already had 6 new presses. He was a businessman employing, at its peak, 60 men who served 20 presses. It was forbidden to let winds or leave sniffles here (there were rules in the printing house). In addition to printing, the shop also sold maps, lace and globes. His daughters joined the business early on: they had to read and write early so that they could proofread in the printing house at the age of 5.
Important writers and scientist found their way to this printing house. They also quickly opened branches in Frankfurt, Leiden and Paris. After Christoffel Plantin, books will be printed for 8 generations. The house remained in the family, and continued to print, until it is sold to the city of Antwerp in 1867. By then, the infrastructure of the printing company had become outdated, the owners were no longer interested in printing and publishing.
For me, the highlights are the workshop with the oldest printing presses in the world and the libraries on the first floor. You understand with my fascination for books …, and one day I also want such a library (a dream). The printing company has printing presses on one side and typesetting cabinets on the other. These cabinets contain the lead print. Usually not arranged alphabetically, but functional. It was ensured that the typesetter, the one who had to put the letters one after the other (in mirror image and upside down!), had to make the smallest possible movements. The typesetter can thus work faster and thus earn more money.
Another highlight is the courtyard, a green pearl in the heart of Antwerp. The facades around it were built between 1620 and 1639 in Renaissance style, commissioned by Balthazar Moretus. The plants in the garden were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, plants Plantin must have known himself. A 17th century sketch of the garden was found. In the archive other useful data was found that tell something about the garden from the 16th to the 18th century. The garden was built on the base of these data and models from that time.
But there is so much more to discover in the museum. Among others the Biblia Polyglotta from 1568-1573, a bible in different languages in 8 volumes and weighing 48 kilos. You can not browse through this books, but many books have reproductions so you can look inside.
You can choose between a map of the museum where the highlights are listed or a book that you can borrow.
For an extensive visit, the museum says that you should count about 2 hours.
New this year is the wristband as an entrance ticket. With this strap you can go outside for a breath of fresh air or a nice lunch at the Vrijdagmarkt.
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