In recent years, the number of libraries, both large and small, that have made their collections of illuminated manuscripts available via the internet and published catalogues has grown exponentially. The catalogue by Lieve Watteeuw and Catherine Reynolds for the collection at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp is a welcome addition to these efforts. Christopher Plantin (c. 1520-1589) is well known to bibliophiles and scholars as one of the most important publishers of the Renaissance, responsible for printed editions of Greek and Latin classics in addition to polyglot Bibles. He amassed an impressive library of manuscripts that were used to help the scholars, editors and proof-readers at his press. After Plantin’s death, these efforts were continued under his son-in-law, Jan Moretus (1543-1610), Balthasar I Moretus (1574-1641), and especially, Balthasar II Moretus (1615-1674).
The catalogue under review here focuses on only a part of the collection of manuscripts at the museum, specifically those with illuminations or other decorations. To determine when they entered the collection, the authors rely heavily on three sets of inventories: one made in 1592 by Balthasar I Moretus shortly after Plantin’s death (which listed those 83 manuscripts specifically for the workshop’s use); one made in 1650 by Balthasar II Moretus (that also incorporated the family’s library), and an unpublished one from 1805 made long after the press itself had closed. Plantin’s acquisitions, as with those of his immediate successors, were collected primarily for their texts rather than their decorations. It would not be until the nineteenth century that the Moretus family, specifically Louis-Franciscus-Xaverius Moretus (1758-1820), would collect with an eye for aesthetics, focusing on liturgical and devotional books from the Northern and Southern Netherlands. The changing patterns in the acquisitions can be glimpsed within the three inventories, beginning with a strong emphasis on classical secular texts in the sixteenth century, to a greater liturgical focus in the seventeenth century (paralleling the changing priorities of the press) and finally to an aesthetic focus in the nineteenth century.
The introduction offers an overview of the history of the collection, pointing out some of the predominant avenues by which the manuscripts were acquired. Inscriptions and ex libri in the manuscripts attest to the close-knit circle of humanists in Antwerp, which included Franciscus Junius, Peter Paul Rubens, Nicholas Heinsius, and Victor Ghyseline. Among the most important was Theodorus Pulmannus (1507/08-1581), from whose library around 20 manuscripts originated. Pulmannus was a cloth merchant who later in life was active at the press as a scholar and editor. Several of the manuscripts listed in the catalogue were used as the basis for his editions published by the press.
The catalogue itself provides standard technical and codicological descriptions of the manuscripts, with a particular stress on provenance and iconographical content. The authors also provide some short remarks about each manuscript, primarily relating to its usage at the press or in regards to attribution. Among the most fascinating aspects of the catalogue are the detailed notes concerning the provenance of the manuscripts, some of which read like mini-novellas encapsulating the rapidly shifting political climate of this tumultuous period. One example is Cat. 22, a Bible produced in the second half of the thirteenth century in Paris. It was at the monastery of St. Laurence in Buda, Hungary, by c. 1300. An Arabic inscription in the manuscript was probably added after the Turks conquered the town in 1541. An ex libris for Gillis de Grave, dated 1551 in Ancona, may possibly be linked to an Antwerp cloth merchant of that name who was in Ancona in 1537 and who was ultimately exiled from Antwerp in 1570 for his part in the troubles of the later 1560s. However, the Bible seems to have remained in the Netherlands as it was listed in the 1650 inventory.
The catalogue is organized into two basic sections: those manuscripts with significant illuminations come first, followed by those with fewer decorative elements (primarily pen-work or colored initials). This unusual choice has the unfortunate result of suggesting that those in the latter group are somehow less important. Beyond that, the manuscripts are roughly chronological. It would have been quite interesting to see the manuscripts divided based on when they were acquired, leaving those whose provenance either is uncertain or cannot be hypothesized as a separate group at the end. This would have created a clearer picture of the collecting interests of the Plantin-Moretus families paralleling Watteeuw and Reynold’s excellent introduction. A very useful and comprehensive series of indices, including an iconographic index, allows for easy searching of the catalogue. Moreover, the volume is generously illustrated with full-page, color images. Overall, this is a very useful, well thought out and handsome addition to the corpus of publications devoted to smaller manuscript collections.
New Mexico State University