Research into to the origins of my pet book, published by Christophe Plantin in 1567, has raised more questions than answers with regards to the text’s author, audience, and the physical manufacture of the codex. Though there is little to no information on the Internet about my specific book, (titled in full, Biblia, ad vetustissima exemplaria castigata: Quid in horum Bibliorum castigatione praestitum sit, subsequens praefatio latiùs indicabi) the use of online translation tools and contextual clues has helped me piece together some of its history and origins.
Since my pet book is a Bible, getting a full understanding of its authorship has proven to be a difficult part of this process. At the base of the title page is the line “Ex officina Plantini,” which can be translated to mean both “By Plantin” or “Printed by Plantin.”
Though these translations are very similar, their differences when it comes to authorship are profound. Other than this one line, there aren’t many indications of who might have transcribed or translated this version of the Latin Vulgate Bible, which left me wondering whether Plantin or another author composed the actual text, and whether they composed it from scratch or copied it from another Bible. The listing for my book on the WorldCat website names Plantin as the author, but it has no information suggesting to what role he played in authoring the text.
Luckily, I found some clues within the book and on the internet about Plantin’s role in producing this text that lead me to believe that Plantin was not the sole author of this text- rather, though Plantin was the primary party responsible for the publishing and distribution of this book, the creation of the text was overseen or conducted by a professional theologian. None of the sources I read about Plantin indicated that he authored any theological text, but interestingly, the most highly acclaimed sacred text produced by Plantin (known as the Biblia Polyglotta) was created in conjunction with a theologian sent to him by King Philip II of Spain.
King Philip II was also involved in the creation of my pet book, as noted on a dedication page titled SUMMA PRIVILEGII. A rough translation of the dedication reveals that Plantin and a “theologian Louanij” “were appointed, amended, and approved [for the printing] and retailing” of this Bible by the “Grace of God, [and] King of Spain.” It seems likely that King Philip II would have sent Plantin a theologian to work with on the Vulgate Bible. His involvement in the project, as described in the dedication, mirrors his close involvement in the production of the Biblia Polyglotta, for which he sent Plantin a partner. Additionally, Plantin’s Biblia Polyglotta was first published in the year 1568, and the Vulgate Bible was produced in the year 1567, meaning that the two books were likely produced in very similar ways. There is no information about the patronage of the Vulgate, but Plantin’s close ties to the King suggest that he could have commissioned or sponsored it. A Google search of the term Louanij (which is not a Latin term and thus seems to be a name) returned images of a text that was printed in a very similar fashion to Plantin’s Vulgate Bible. The text, published in 1580, is authored by “Ioannis Lensaei Bellioani, Sacrae Theologiae Louanij Professoris,” or “John Lensaei Bellioani, Professor of Theology Louanij.” The term “Louanij” does not appear anywhere else on the internet that I could find except for this text, which leads me to believe that it references a certain professor of theology or a certain rank within the profession of theology. Since this text was published in 1580, the same theologian could have collaborated with Plantin in the creation of his Vulgate Bible.
Plantin is an extremely significant historical figure in terms of his work as a printer and publisher. He was born in France in the year 1920, but later moved to Normandy where he learned bookbinding and bookselling. He moved to Antwerp, Belgium in 1949 where he pursued a career as a bookbinder and leather dresser. He was very successful at his leather work, and his pieces were sought after by very wealthy clients, including King Philip II (who later sponsored Plantin’s greatest publishing projects.) In 1555, while delivering a leather case to King Philip II, a group of drunken men stabbed Plantin in the shoulder. The injury wasn’t fatal, but it changed the trajectory of his career. Unable to do physical labor, Plantin picked up printing, creating his own printing shop in 1555. In 1567, he founded a publishing house called De Gulden Passer (The Golden Compass,) through which he produced some of his most influential works, such as the Biblia Polyglotta, which was a side-by-side compilation of multilingual literal translations of the Old and New Testaments. Though he was a Catholic, Plantin was ambivalent in times of religious conflict that swept Europe in the 16th century. He forced out of Belgium on account of this ambivalence in 1562, but returned to Antwerp in 1563.
There is no concrete information about the company through which my pet book was published, but because it was printed in 1567 in Antwerp (as noted on the spine,) it was most likely printed through De Gulden Passer on Plantin’s own presses. There are also a number of prefaces and commentaries throughout the Bible written by authors such as Iohannis Hentenio, whom I cannot find any information about.
Though there are definitely some mysteries involved in the origins of this book, it comes from a complex and historically rich background that makes it extremely interesting. In the coming weeks, I am hoping to learn more about Plantin’s role in religious transmission, as he made sacred texts more accessible to the public.
Colby College Special Collections