Until 1 August 2021, Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp holds the exhibition ‘On the road with Plantin. Travel in the 16th Century‘.
Christophe Plantin (c. 1520–1589) travelled a lot, but never for his own leisure. It was always business first. In the exhibition, we head off on business trips to Leiden in the then County of Holland, Paris in France and then Reichsstadt Frankfurt in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.
Plantin was one of the most important publishers in Europe. From his printing firm the Officina Plantiniana on Antwerp’s Vrijdagmarkt he sent out into the world an impressive quantity of high-quality books.
Plantin was continually seeking out authors, customers and materials. His bags were always packed and at the ready for yet another journey in the interests of his business. He lobbied dignitaries for money, commissions and advocacy. He knocked on the doors of debtors, lodged with friends, and in between times also had family matters to attend to and sort out. Not least, of course, he had books to sell: at his shop in Paris, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and through his printing business in Leiden.
What do we know about Plantin’s journeys? What do we know about travelling in the 16th century? What sort of people were taking to the road? How did they manage it? What difficulties and dangers did they encounter? Plantin would not have been able to catch the high-speed train to Paris in the morning and still be home again for his evening meal. Travelling in the 16th century was a venture not to be undertaken lightly.
‘On the Road with Plantin. Travel in the 16th Century’ sketches a picture of travel in another age, without the aid of Google Maps and Tripadvisor. Armed instead with a purse full of stivers, thalers and pennies. Those were the currencies.
Taking to dirt tracks and navigating treacherous rivers. Going by horse and cart or by tow barge. Travelling slowly all the way.
The museum dispatches young photographers to follow in Plantin’s footsteps, using different means of transport. In what ways do travel distances and travel times differ from journeys in the 16th century?
His image essay ‘In de sporen van Plantijn‘ (‘Tracking Plantin‘) is incorporated in the book ‘Op reis met Plantijn‘ (‘On the road with Plantin‘).
“I saw what Plantin never knew”, Raskin says in a press release.
“In these five hundred years, everything changed. Horse and carriage were replaced by diesel and coachwork. Sandy roads and forrest trails are now motorways and railway lines. Bumpy slowness through the silence of nature has been exchanged for high speed through commercial buzz. For Plantin, it was an adventurous undertaking. I just commuted.
Sources: Museum Plantin-Moretus and the Culture Office of the City of Antwerp.
Images: Victoriano Moreno, Cédric Raskin.
Header image: own work.