Christophe Plantin was an intellectual with a nose for business. Shortly before 1550 he moved from France to Antwerp. Five years later, he started his own printing works. He developed his printing office into the world’s largest such business.
Jan Moerentorf worked his way up from bookshop assistant to Plantin’s right-hand man. A polyglot and autodidact, he latinised his name as ‘Moretus’. After Plantin’s death in 1589, he ran the Officina Plantiniana until 1610. The printing business kept its position as the leading book supplier of the Counter Reformation.
Balthasar I Moretus cultivated close ties with Spain. As a result, the Officina Plantiniana’s export business to Spain and its overseas territories flourished once again. His luxury editions commanded respect throughout Europe.
The successors of Balthasar I Moretus carried on publishing liturgical books. When the Spanish crown withdrew their printing privileges in 1764, it came as a shock. French annexation was the final blow. The printing business remained open, but refused to modernise. Eventually, Edward Moretus sold the works to the City of Antwerp in 1876.
Descendants of the Moretus family recently donated a remarkable family heirloom to the Museum Plantin-Moretus. To put it simply, it resembles a painted cricket bat. The object’s function is a complete mystery.
The house and the familyowned company survived for three hundred years. This was largely the work of a group of strong, emancipated women. Their names are Martina Plantin (1550 – 1616), Anna Goos (1627 – 1691), Anna-Maria de Neuf (1654 – 1714) and Maria-Theresia Borrekens (1728 – 1797). They managed the company for long periods of time, guaranteeing its continuity.