Plantin-Moretus House-Workshops-Museum Complex
The Plantin-Moretus Museum is a printing plant and publishing house dating from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Situated in Antwerp, one of the three leading cities of early European printing along with Paris and Venice, it is associated with the history of the invention and spread of typography. Its name refers to the greatest printer-publisher of the second half of the 16th century: Christophe Plantin (c. 1520–89). The monument is of outstanding architectural value. It contains exhaustive evidence of the life and work of what was the most prolific printing and publishing house in Europe in the late 16th century. The building of the company, which remained in activity until 1867, contains a large collection of old printing equipment, an extensive library, invaluable archives and works of art, among them a painting by Rubens.
Justification for Inscription
Criterion (ii): Through the publications of the Officina Plantiniana, the Plantin-Moretus complex is a testimony to the major role played by this important centre of 16th century European humanism in the development of science and culture.
Criterion (iii): Considered as an integral part of the Memory of the World (UNESCO, 2001), the Plantinian Archives, including the business archives of the Officina, the books of commercial accounts and the correspondence with a number of world-renowned scholars and humanists, provide an outstanding testimony to a cultural tradition of the first importance.
Criterion (iv): As an outstanding example of the relationship between the living environment of a family during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the world of work and the world of commerce, the Plantin-Moretus Complex is of unrivalled Documentary value relating to significant periods of European history: the Renaissance, the Baroque era and Classicism.
Criterion (vi): The Plantin-Moretus complex is tangibly associated with ideas, beliefs, technologies and literary and artistic works of outstanding universal significance.
Through the publications of the Officina Plantiniana, the Plantin-Moretus complex bears witness to the major role played by this important centre of 16th-century European humanism in the development of science and culture. The Plantinian Archives, including the business archives of the Officina, the books of commercial accounts and the correspondence with a number of world-renowned scholars and humanists, provide an outstanding testimony to a cultural tradition of the first importance.
As an outstanding example of the relationship between the living environment of a family during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the world of work and the world of commerce, the Plantin-Moretus Complex is of unrivalled documentary value relating to significant periods of European history - the Renaissance, the Baroque era and Classicism. The Plantin-Moretus complex is tangibly associated with ideas, beliefs, technologies and literary and artistic works of outstanding universal significance.
The old town of Antwerp (Antwerpen in Flemish) developed on the right bank of the Schelde River, at the foot of a fortress with a tollgate for the control of river transport, dating back to the 9th century. After being substantially extended during the 13th and 14th centuries, Antwerp asserted its position, at the expense of Bruges (Brugge), as:
- a centre of monetary transactions;
- an international marketplace (including an art market);
- a meeting place for humanists and artists;
- a hub of European cultural exchanges, importing in particular the key elements of the Italian Renaissance which were to inspire the Flemish Renaissance.
The booming vitality of Antwerp from 1500 onwards was conducive to the development of printing. By the mid-16th century, some 140 printers, publishers and booksellers were working in the town, where the book market took on an increasingly international dimension. Antwerp thus became the centre of the book businesses for all regions north of the Alps, and (with Venice and Paris) one of the three capitals of European typography, thanks primarily to the activity of Christopher Plantin between 1555 and 1589.
It was in the setting of the metropolis of Antwerp, which in the mid-16th century had a population of over 100,000 that Plantin set up his printing and publishing firm, the Officina Plantiniana with a complex of workshops adjoining a patrician residence. The Officina at that time was quite easily the largest typographical company in Europe. On the death of Plantin in 1589, his son-in-law Jan Moretus I (1543-1610) took over at the head of the best equipped company in Europe, and it was thanks to the Moretus family that the continuity of the production activities of the firm was maintained until 1867. This continuity refers to the same functions carried out in the same place. This explains the homogeneity of the plan of the building, which is reflected in the present-day museum.
In all, the historic building in its current state comprises 35 rooms (including the drawing room dedicated to the memory of the jurist René Vandevoir (1892-1966), a benefactor of the museum, and of the French-speaking Flemish writer, Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916).Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
In the application, the history of the old town of Antwerp
and the development of the mansion of Plantin and the
Moretus, with its printing and publishing workshops, are
fully and accurately set out. It was the constantly growing
economic role of the town which was crucial; the other
essential factor was the fact that Christophe PLANTIN
moved to Antwerp in 1555, and took up residence in the
mansion (today the Museum premises) which later came to
be known as the Golden Compass, in the heart of the
historic nucleus of the town, explain the evolution of the
monument and its importance in the history of printing and
publishing, from 1579, the date of the construction of the
first set of printing workshops (Officina Plantiniana) to
1871, when the last in the line of printers/publishers
associated with the workshops, Edouard Moretus (1804-
1880) abandoned the printing activity, dedicating himself
to preserving the furniture and property patrimony, and the
treasures accumulated over the centuries.
Over this long period, a distinction can be drawn between
The thriving enterprise of Plantin, up to his death in 1589
(by that date, his Officina had already produced some 2450
works) was continued by his son-in-law Jan I Moretus
(1543-1610), who made it the best equipped printing works
in Europe. His son, Balthasar I Moretus (1574-1641) took
over from him and consolidated the firm's reputation, with
the help of his friendship with Peter Paul Rubens. This
famous artist produced drawings for remarkable and
exceptional works of Baroque publishing, which were
universally imitated in the second half of the 17th century.
The Officina's international reputation and the unrivalled
quality of its books led to visits to the Officina by Marie de
Médicis in 1631, Queen Christina of Sweden in 1654 and a
number of Italian and Polish princes and princesses.
The second half of the 17th century marked the beginning
of a period of decline for printing in Antwerp. However,
the Moretuses' Officina maintained its position as the
largest in the Spanish Netherlands. Its books, mainly
religious, were produced for the Spanish market and were
exported as far afield as China, and to the Spanish
possessions in the New World. From 1715 to 1764, its
output made one of the largest contributions to the
international export trade in books.
Despite an incipient renewal in the first quarter of the 19th
century, the situation of the Moretuses deteriorated. They
provide unable to come to terms with the modernisation of
printing, and in particular the consequences of the
development of mechanical and rotary presses. Edward
Moretus (1804-1880) was to be the last of the
printer/publishers of the family, and after the publication in
1866 of a final book, Horae diurnae S. Francisci, he was
forced to cease printing. In 1871, he became the curator of
the family patrimony and a collector.
The Plantin/Moretus saga was over.
In 1873, he negotiated the sale of the property with all its
contents under an agreement with the Belgian state and the
City of Antwerp.
In 1876, the Plantin-Moretus Museum was born.
To these phases of historical evolution correspond
developments in architecture, refurbishment and
Establishment of the core of the mansion, and construction
of the printing works with its tools and equipment
Successive extensions of the residence, and various
alterations which create the interior courtyard in its present
During the flourishing period under the ownership of
Franciscus Joannes Moretus (1717-1768), the seven small
house fronts were demolished and replaced by the existing
building, in a transitional Louis XV-Louis XVI style,
reflecting the tastes of the ennobled upper bourgeoisie.
d- From 1876 to the present day:
- Purchase of the whole property (including its contents) by
the Belgian state and the City of Antwerp in 1876.
- Opening of the Plantin-Moretus Museum on 19 August
- In 1937, addition of a new wing to house the Print Room
of the City of Antwerp, a subsidiary of the Museum, with
its sizeable collection of graphic art.
- In 1947 restoration work was carried out following the
damage caused in WW2: on 2 January 1945, a flying bomb
damaged the house of 1580 on the south side, and the
facade of the East wing.
Fortunately, the collections, which had been moved to a
safe place, were not damaged.