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History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering typography

Christopher Plantin and the drunkards

Life was tough in the sixteenth century. Consider Christoper Plantin [c1520 – 1589] of Antwerp, though a Frenchman, known for his Biblia Real or Polyglot Bible [published 1572], with some of the types cut by Robert Granjon, another Frenchman.

Christopher Planti
Portrait of Plantin engraved by Jan Wiericx, 1588.

This venture almost cost Plantin his business, such was the financial investment needed.

Yet another strain on his wellbeing was the engravers he used to illustrate not just this but many other works, among whom the three Wiericx brothers were possibly the most troublesome.

According to contemporary reports fine draughtsmen, the brothers also liked their drink and other recreational past times to be had in Dutch taverns of the period. As Clair reports in his biography [Cassell, 1960], Jan and Jerome were ‘incorrigible drunkards’ [p.115].

Plantin himself wrote: ‘There are those in this town who offer them eight florins a day each if they will work for them in their own house, which the said Wiericx do with alacrity, and then, having worked one or two days, they go and spend all their money with disreputable companions in public places of ill fame, often leaving their gear and clothes in pledge, so that anyone who needs their services has to go and ransom them and keep them at work in his house until he has recovered his money’.

Yet Plantin admired the brothers so much [they were quick at their work] that he paid the fines, and paid them well.

Polyglot Bible attributed to Jan Wiericx
Polyglot Bible attributed to Jan Wiericx from volume five