Binding by Christopher Plantin

Brown calf, gold-tooled, painted in white, black, grey, and dark green, with traces of red. Both covers have a rich interlace pattern with moresques. On the front cover a dedication to the Emperor. The round panel in the centre must have originally shown the painted coat of arms of Charles V.

Christopher Plantin, the world-famous printer and publisher, was born c. 1520 in France and died in Antwerp in 1589. He started his career as a bookbinder and achieved great professional renown. He had learned the craft in Caen and left with his wife and child for Paris in 1547 to reach true perfection. In 1549 they moved to Antwerp, where Plantin was granted civil rights in 1550 and started a bookbinding business. He did not start printing until 1555, when an accident put a permanent end to his bookbinding activities.

Like his colleagues Plantin never signed his bookbindings. In the past a number of bindings have been attributed to him, but not corroborated by documentary evidence. The binding reproduced on the opposite page has served as an important link in Plantin research, because an Antwerp prognostication from 1544 was found under the pastedown, thus establishing at any rate that it was made in Antwerp. Only in 1966 could Colin and Nixon attribute one binding definitely to Plantin, because of an entry he had written. The authors at the same time presented a list of 42 bindings attributed to the master, including this one, because of the same tools. The binding was a present from the translator of the book, Willem van Male, or the publisher, Joannes Steelsius, to Charles V. Both maintained good relations with the Emperor and it was in their own interests to present him with this book about his acts of war in a splendid binding à la mode. Another copy of the same book has an almost identical binding. It was made for Charles's son Philip II, and has his coat of arms on the front cover. The binding in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek must originally have had Charles's coat of arms painted in the centre panel, which is now empty.

The decoration of the binding is closest to the best Paris bindings from the 1540-1560 period. The pattern of interlaces and moresques did not originate in France, but came via Italy from the world of Islam. The Renaissance binders had no classical examples to fall back on, but found their inspiration in Islamic art, which also inspired the use of a new cover material, morocco, and gold-tooling.

Bookbinding, made by Christopher Plantin for Emperor Charles V. Antwerp, 1550. Cont.: Ludovicus ab Avila et Zunniga. Commentariorum de bello Germanico, à Carolo V. [...]. Antverpiae, in aedib. Ioan. Steelsii, 1550. 8º. Provenance: A.W.M. Mensing collectio

Bookbinding, made by Christopher Plantin for Emperor Charles V. Antwerp, 1550. Cont.: Ludovicus ab Avila et Zunniga. Commentariorum de bello Germanico, à Carolo V. [...]. Antverpiae, in aedib. Ioan. Steelsii, 1550. 8º. Provenance: A.W.M. Mensing collection, 1909. 1708 D 41

Literature

P. Verheyden, 'Twee banden van Plantin voor keizer en prins', in: De Gulden Passer 15 (1937), p. 107-119
Tentoonstelling boekbanden in de nationale bibliotheek. 's-Gravenhage 1941, p. 13, no. 10
G. Colin & H.M. Nixon, 'La question des reliures de Plantin', in: Studia bibliographica in honorem Herman de la Fontaine Verwey. Amsterdam 1968, p. 56-89.