Vassar College Digital Library

Christopher Plantin, 1555-1589 -- Printer's Mark

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Main (Thompson) Library location: South wing -- Second window. Christopher Plantin (c.1520 – 1589) was born circa 1520 in the region of Touraine, France where he was raised in the home of a clergyman and received a classical education. He was apprenticed to bookbinder Robert Macé and later began to study printing with Jacques Bogard in Paris. In 1549 Plantin and his wife settled in Antwerp, a city better suited for his work in both Catholic and Protestant domains; there he became acquainted with Alexander Graphaeus, who became his financial supporter. Plantin printed his first book in 1555, a French-Italian treatise on the education of young girls entitled La Institutione di una Nata Nobilmente. In 1568 Plantin began to produce an eight-volume polyglot Bible, published as a Biblia Regia for the King of Spain. His earlier Bibles were printed in a number of languages, including Greek and Hebrew; the polyglot Bible combined five languages and created a unified version of scripture. Following the publication of this Bible, Plantin's printing press grew into a large and prolific firm, publishing both liturgical books and royal documents, especially for King Phillip II of Spain. These titles include Index Expurgatorius, Corpus Juris Civilis, and Martyrology. Plantin also produced several editions of the works of Church fathers, such as St. Augustine and St. Jerome. Jan Moretus continued the printing firm after Plantin's death in 1589. Plantin's mark in the Vassar Library depicts a hand using a compass to draw a circle. This is representative of his most famous device, which would have included the motto Labore et Constantia, meaning "Work and perseverance." Plantin explained his intentions with this symbolism in the preface of the Polyglot Bible, writing that the mobile, outer point of the compass represents labor, whereas the stationary point in the center illustrates the importance of constancy. In later versions, the hand holding the compass extends from an opening in the clouds. Plantin occasionally enclosed this scene in an architectural border adorned with cherubim and floral arrangements.

Photograph by Amy Laughlin

This project was created by Katherine Durr (VC '15) as part of the Ford Scholar program under the supervision of Professor Ron Patkus in Summer 2013.

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"The Mark of the Renaissance Printer" blog post by Katherine Durr, 2013 Vassar Ford Scholar: