Polishers, Printers, and Patrons: Origins of Plantin’s Vulgate Bible

Research into to the origins of my pet book, published by Christopher Plantin in 1567, originally raised a lot of questions for me.  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,) but luckily resources like Professor Cook, online translation tools, encyclopedic biographies and contextual clues have helped me piece together some of its history and origins.

Since my pet book is a Catholic Bible, there is no determinable author.  However, there are additions in this book that can help determine a lot about its history- including who edited it and produced it.  At the base of the title page is the line “Ex officina Plantini,” which roughly translates as “Printed by Plantin.”

The inscription at the base of the title page.

As I discussed summarily in my previous blog post, 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 of Spain (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.

A portrait of Christopher Plantin.  Image source: Plantin’s Wikipedia Page.

My pet book was published during the height of Plantin’s printing career, which arguably reached its peak in 1568 when he published his Polyglot Bible with the support of King Philip II. King Philip II was also involved in the creation of my pet book, presumably as the patron, as noted on a dedication page titled SUMMA PRIVILEGII.  

Left: the dedication page, SUMMA PRIVILEGII. Right: A portrait of King Philip II. Image source: Philip II’s Encyclopedia Brittanica Page. 

A rough translation of the dedication reveals that Plantin and a “theologian from Louvain” “were appointed, amended, and approved [for the printing] and retailing” of this Bible by the “Doctors of the Church, Grace of God, [and] King of Spain.” Professor Cook helped me confirm that the theologian from Louvain (which is the French spelling of Leuven, a city in Belgium) is a man named Johannes Hentenius.  Hentenius was a Biblical exegete (or scriptural interpreter) of the Dominican Order, which is a Catholic religious order. He is categorized as this book’s author on its WorldCat entry, which is inaccurate, as Professor Cook also helped me confirm that Hentenius was the editor/redactor of this copy of the Bible. This makes sense given that King Philip II, the patron of this book, was a Roman Catholic who championed the Counter Reformation.  In addition to editing the text, Hentenius also wrote a preface for this book, and is referenced in a number of the miscellaneous commentaries made by other scholars in different sections of the book. This text is littered with tons of different commentaries and additions, which make tracing contributorship very difficult, but it is safe to say that the primary players in this book’s development were Plantin, King Philip II, and Hentenius.

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.  According to the Museum Plantin-Moretus website, Plantin’s books were shipped to places all over the world, including the Netherlands, Holy Roman Empire, France, Spain and its colonies in America, Italy, and England, and North Africa. Thus it would be difficult to trace the specific shipping company used to transport it, especially because I don’t know for sure where this book was sold after it was published.

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.  Plantin was an extremely interesting man, as was King Philip II, and their backstories/political affiliations give depth to the purpose of my book’s creation. 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.


Professor Cook

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WorldCat Entry for Biblia, ad vetustissima exemplaria castigata: Quid in horum Bibliorum castigatione praestitum sit, subsequens praefatio latiùs indicabi.