More atmosphere, more Plantin, more to experience at Unesco World Heritage

On 30 September 2016, the fully renovated Museum Plantin-Moretus will be opening its doors. The Antwerp museum, recognised as unique UNESCO World Heritage, will not only have a new extension with reading room and depot, the permanent museum collection, which dates back to the 1950s will also be dragged into the 21st century. The total cost of the works amounts to around EUR 4.5 million.

The Museum Plantin-Moretus, which is the residence and publishing house of the Plantin – Moretus family, accommodates the world’s oldest printed works. One hundred and forty years ago, Edward Moretus sold the residence with publishing house on the outskirts of the City of Antwerp with the idea of transforming the compound into a museum. The city’s oldest museum has been the only museum on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2005. On 15 July 2005, the entire residence with publishing house was recognised as ‘UNESCO World Heritage’. Back in 2002, the archives of Christoffel Plantin’s publishing house were recognised by UNESCO as cultural world heritage and was thus recognised as ‘Memory of the World’.

In November 2014, the work started on an extension with reading room and depot in Heilige Geeststraat. On 5 April, a start will be made on the new museum layout. The selected scenographs Caroline Voet and Leen De Brabandere were tasked to bring the character of Christoffel Plantin back to life and to create the atmosphere which has been in the historical Officina Plantiniana for centuries. Needless to say, they respected the unique and original setting of the residence and printing firm on the Vrijdagmarkt, but are making more use of soundscapes, video images and subtle, but ingenious, lighting techniques.

More Christoffel Plantin
Following the re-opening, the visitor will be meeting the visionary publisher Christoffel Plantin on the ground floor. Plantin, a Frenchman originating from the Tours area, settled in Antwerp around 1550. His publishing firm grew into a multinational company with offices in Leiden and Paris. With the multilingual Bible Biblia Regia, he managed to persuade the Spanish King Philip II of his superior publication and obtained the privilege to export liturgical works to as far as Latin-America. He became the head of a publishing dynasty and for nine generations, ‘De Gulden Passer’, the residence and publishing house, remained in the hands of the family.

In the new museum, visitors become acquainted with the different aspects of the highly versatile Plantin. For example, he is portrayed as a family man, publisher, manager, entrepreneur and printer of quality printed matter. Being the favourite publisher of scientists and humanists, he challenged them to publish better and more accurate scientific works with him.  That is how at the Vrijdagmarkt, Kiliaan laid the foundation of the Dutch dictionary, Simon Stevin argued in favour of the decimal system and with the Dutch publication of Valverde, the ‘barbers and surgeons’ were kept abreast of the developments in medicine. Ortelius and Mercator were sold at the Vrijdagmarkt, and with the publications of Lobelius, Dodoens and Clusius, botany received a boost.

On the first floor, the focus is no longer on Plantin himself, but on the publishing firm with which he and his descendants put Antwerp on the map. On the basis of ten masterpieces which helped shape the world, visitors discover how instrumental this Antwerp publishing firm is for the development of mankind – not for nothing have the archives of the museum been recognised as Memory of the World.

More to see
Whilst the revamped museum remains committed to quality and scientific rigour, it does hope to attract a wider audience in future, particularly families with children. For example, the new audio guide brings the historical occupants of the house to life, several photo opportunities are incorporated in the scenography, there will be a family game, visitors can dress up in historic outfits and everyone is given the opportunity to create their own print.

Temporary closure
In the context of all the works, the museum will be closed in phases. Some rooms are currently closed on the first floor. From 4 April 2016, this floor will close completely and only the ground floor – with the printing shop, the salon with the Rubens paintings, the old bookshop and courtyard garden – will remain accessible. Discounted entry fees apply during this period. The museum will be closing its doors completely between 30 May and 29 September 2016 and will be reopening at the ceremonial opening weekend of 30 September to 2 October.

Nadia De Vree

perscoördinator Musea en Erfgoed Antwerpen, Stad Antwerpen

About Museum Plantin-Moretus

The Museum Plantin-Moretus is the residential house of the Plantin-Moretus family which contains the publishing house – printing press. The oldest printing presses in the world are here. They bear witness to the first industrial distribution of knowledge and image. The rich art collection is located in the historical residence, including paintings from family friend Peter Paul Rubens. The residence as well as the printing establishment is on UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage list.

The museum in images