The Correspondence of Christophe Plantin

Primary Contributors:

Cultures of Knowledge (based on the M. Rooses and J. Denucé edition)

Christophe Plantin, by Peter Paul Rubens. 1616, copy of a portrait painted before 1689. (Museum Plantin-Moretus, Antwerp; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Christophe Plantin (c. 1520–1589)

Born in France, probably near Tours, at the end of the second decade of the sixteenth century, Christophe Plantin became known across early modern Europe as the founder and head of an influential printing house. After serving an apprenticeship as a bookbinder to Robert II Macé in Caen, Plantin moved with his wife Joanna Rivière first to Paris and from there, in 1548, to Antwerp where he established the business that would develop into his printing empire.

Following a setback in 1562 when the printing of a heretical pamphlet resulted in the presses being seized, the Plantin Press — Officina Plantiniana — expanded to became the largest typographical firm in Europe. Plantin proved exceptionally skilled as a businessman and navigated successfully the religious and political turmoil that swept across his adopted country, publishing works by Protestants and Catholics alike. Plantin is known primarily for his Biblia Regia [the King’s Bible] which was published between 1568 and 1572/3 under the title Biblia Polyglotta. Work on the Bible was overseen on behalf of Philip II by the Spanish theologian Benito Arias Montano.

The climate leading up to and following the sack of Antwerp by Spanish troops in November 1576 resulted in Plantin establishing a branch in of the press in Paris. As Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and commander of the Spanish forces from 1578, tightened his grip in the Spanish Netherlands, Plantin set up an additional office in Leiden in 1582 and, on the advice of Justus Lipsius [Joost Lips], was appointed printer to the university there. By the time Antwerp fell to Farnese in August 1585 following a thirteen-month siege, Plantin had chosen to return to the city where he remained for the final four years of his life.

Plantin and Jeanne had five surviving daughters and three of the couple’s sons-in-law — Jan Moretus, Frans van Ravelingen [Raphelengius], and Gilles Beys — played a crucial role in the workings and subsequent afterlife of the firm: Raphelengius headed the Leiden branch of the business; Moretus took over the Antwerp office following the death of his father-in-law in 1589; and Beys ran the French offshoot.

Partners and Additional Contributors

This calendar of Plantin’s correspondence was compiled and incorporated into EMLO by Cultures of Knowledge at the suggestion of the Justus Lipsius scholar Dr Jeanine de Landstheer and is based on the nine volumes of letters edited and translated by Max Rooses and Jan Denucé which were published in Antwerp between 1883 and 1918. The metadata for the letters contained in this edition has been collated gradually over the course of two years and, as with EMLO’s calendar of the correspondence of Plantin’s posthumous admirer Peter Paul Rubens, has seen a productive collaboration between a large number of Digital Fellows and interns, each of whom worked his or her way through a portion of the volumes whilst training. Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank Lucy Hennings, Katharina Herold, Owen Hubbard, Marc Kolakowski, Charlotte Marique, Katie McKeogh, Callum Seddon, Mark Thakkar, Sarah Ward, and Milena Zeidler, as well as work experience student Ran Flanagan, for their help to publish the metadata of this leading publisher’s correspondence.

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

Correspondance de Christophe Plantin, ed. M. Rooses and J. Denucé, 9 vols (Antwerp, 1883–1918).


Antwerp was an important centre of humanism and Plantin was in contact with many of the leading humanists of his time. Amongst his friends may be found the celebrated scholar and humanist Justus Lipsius (whose own catalogue, courtesy of his admirable editor Jeanine de Landtsheer, will be published in EMLO in the coming months), the geographer and map-maker Abraham Ortelius, and the painter Pieter Brueghel the elder. Plantin printed humanist works, including dictionaries, publications on grammar, and emblem books; he printed scientific manuscripts, the work of many leading botanists, including Clusius, Lobelius, and Dodoens, and anatomical and medical works, as well as mathematical works; and he printed breviaries, missals, books of hours, and bibles. In 1579 he brought out the first modern atlas, Ortelius’s Theatrum orbis terrarum. Although Plantin himself was not a scholar and appears to have been self-educated, the letters in his correspondence are written in a number of languages, including French, Latin, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish. Spanning the years between 1649 and Plantin’s death in July 1589, the letters (the printed copies of which are provided via links from each EMLO record) offer a fascinating insight into the workings of a leading publishing house in the early modern era. The edition includes a number of letters for which Christophe Plantin is neither the author nor the recipient, but in which he is mentioned, or which concern the business of the firm, and a number of these date from the months following his death, a time in which his family was dealing with the after effects of his final illness.

Plantin/Moretus emblema from the title page of Theodor Pulmann and Poelmann, eds, Lucan’s De bello civili. Woodcut. (Antwerp: Officina Plantiniana, 1592). (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Further resources


Correspondance de Christophe Plantin, ed. M. Rooses and J. Denucé, 9 vols (Antwerp, 1883–1918).

Max Rooses, Christophe Plantin, imprimeur anversois (Antwerp, 1882).

Leon Voet, The Golden Compasses: a History and Evaluation of the Printing and Publishing Activities of the Officina Plantiniana at Antwerp, 2 vols (Amsterdam, 1969).

L. Voet and J. Grisolle, The Plantin Press (1555 – 1589). A Bibliography of the Works Printed and Published by Christopher Plantin at Antwerp and Leiden (Amsterdam, 1980).


Additional Resources

Museum Plantin-Moretus

Manuscripts from the Museum Plantin-Moretus available on the World Digital Library



Launch Catalogue

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