Plantin, Christophe

Plantin, Christophe
(ca. 1520-1589)
   Printer and publisher at Antwerp from 1555 to his death. He was born in France but about 1548 emigrated to Antwerp, where he worked as a bookbinder and in 1555 received a license to practice the printing trade. Although Plan-tin conformed to the official Catholicism of the Habsburg Nether-lands, he was a spiritualizing mystic who had little use for the exter-nal practices and doctrines of any of the competing religious groups. There is some evidence that his new business received financial sup-port from Hendrik Niclaes, the leader of an underground church known as the Family of Love. In 1562 some of his workers were caught producing illegal Calvinist books and Plantin had to close his press for a year, which he spent at Paris. When he reopened his press in 1563, he took a Calvinist as his partner, but before the end of the 1560s he distanced himself from anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish con-nections and cultivated the friendship of Cardinal Granvelle, the archbishop of Mechelen and the principal figure in the administration that ruled the Netherlands in name of King Philip II.
   With royal support, Plantin undertook publication of a scholarly Biblia polyglotta (1568-1573), which presented the text of the Bible in five languages. He also won the contract to print royal legislation and the text of the Index of Forbidden Books. Especially profitable was his legal monopoly on the printing of liturgical and religious books for Spain and the Spanish colonies (1571). At his print shop, known as the Golden Compass, Plantin gathered a team of human-ists who seem to have shared his willingness to conform outwardly to Catholicism while privately following a religion based on univer-sal human brotherhood and personal morality. At this period Plantin's shop had 16 presses and more than 70 employees. When the civil wars of the 1570s and 1580s brought Antwerp under Protestant con-trol for a number of years, he willingly published Protestant and Familist books but remained officially Catholic. When the Spanish army besieged Antwerp in 1582, he founded a branch at Leiden which in 1583 became the official printer to the new University of Leiden. After Antwerp surrendered to the Spaniards in 1585, he re-turned there and transferred his Antwerp manager, who had been publishing Protestant books while the Calvinists ruled the city, to manage the branch at Leiden. The high quality of his presswork and the excellent scholarship of the humanist scholars with whom he col-laborated made Plantin's press an important cultural center and an ac-tive printer of humanist and academic books and also of tracts pro-duced by the Catholic Reformation.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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