Christophe Plantin lived and worked in this venerable complex, which contained his printing workshop with a whopping 16 presses. His works and publications during the 16th Century created the standards of his era, to such a degree that he was the official Royal Printer of his time. Plantin established the Antwerp School of Engraving. His Golden Compass symbol along with the Latin motto "Labore et Constantia" appears throughout the complex. The shop eventually expanded to 34 rooms during the next two centuries under his descendents, most significantly by his grandson Balthasar Moretus I. The house in its heyday also was known as a gathering place for intellectuals and humanists. The complex debuted as a museum in 1877. UNESCO recognized its extensive archives as a World Heritage site in 2001.
The main drawing room features portraits, some by the ever-present Peter Paul Rubens. As one walks through the historic rooms, you can appreciate the period furniture and wall surfaces along with the historic manuscripts on display under glass cover. The print shop, proofreading room and offices are because of their functions not quite as lavishly decorated, but they have a certain learned atmosphere thanks to interesting displays of old books, prints, and well-preserved equipment. Look for the displays of the Biblia Regia and the Gutenberg Bible. The former was perhaps Plantin’s finest printing achievement, as it consisted of eight volumes and was printed in five languages (Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, Latin and Aramaic). The museum’s priceless copy of the Gutenberg Bible is one of only 13 still in existence.
Other displays of books and documents may be a bit dry except to the most erudite academics, but it is always fascinating to see maps of the old world and how they differ from the current reality. The Rubens collections here include letters, title page designs, book illustrations, prints and drawings by him or related to his visions.
The bookcases that line the walls of the libraries shelve over 25,000 rare books. The second floor houses the type foundry and displays of metal printing types. Take a peek in the peacefully typical Flemish-style inner courtyard, decorated with busts of the family and with leaded stained glass windows.