Heavy heritage


On friday the 20th I finally visited the famed Plantin-Moretus-museum. My mother had arrived for an extended weekend visit here the day before, so I had suitable company – not everyone is up to that amount of old books.

The museum is the old house of the Plantin press, a workplace, a home and a library. It is an UNESCO world heritage and something of a must visit for bibliophiles and type nerds. The printing presses are the oldest ones still in existence, from the beginning of the 17th century, and the library it contains was continuosly updated and well kept from the 16th to the 19th century.

The collections were quite simply excellent, even though the display was sometimes lacking in logic. Sadly, the visit was cut a bit short by the early closing time – which meant guard men herding us forward. The museum will well warrant a second visit with more time – among the items I didn’t manage to photograph were some beautiful maps and a few rather delightful books from the printing presses of Firmin Didot and Giambattista Bodoni (printing with metal type, size some 36 pts, on an open white page really brings out the beauty of their namesake typefaces). Among the rarer curiosities it houses are a 36-line bible and a partial 42-line bible by Gutenberg.


Count the ligatures and alternates – there seems to be three different &’s, for instance. Delectable!


The dog and hand of Cristoffel Plantin (I think).


An old manuscript bible in flemish from the library.



A close-up of the Biblia Polyglotta, Christoffel Plantin’s  largest undertaking, printed between 1568 and 1573. The complexity of setting such a book in metal type is simply daunting.


A woodcut Toucan and it’s printing block. Copper engraving eventually revolutionized the printing of illustrations, thanks to its accuracy and the higher resilience of the printing plates.

* * *

After being diligently ushered out of the museum by the guards, a promenade in the sunshine along the banks of the Schelde proved a most suitable recreation. 090320_0349

The same evening I left for Brussels to attend the BEMF; but more on that in a following post.

On saturday we visited the Modemuseum in Antwerpen. The current exhibition was on the theme of paper fashion, which was interesting and rather close to graphic design. Prominently featured were the sort-of-famed Poster Dresses of Harry Gordon; below.

I was actually quite unaware of the whole paper dress fad of the 60’s – but my mother did remember it. In any case, the exhibition was well put together, and certainly of interest to a wider circle than just the hardcore fashionistas that skulk the streets of Antwerpen.

* * *

There was plenty of Brussels that weekend, as we went there together on sunday. I was going to see my mother off and for the second installment of BEMF, but before that we were to visit some museums, namely, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Disappointingly, the exhibits of modern art was closed for renovation, so the older art had to suffice – most of it religious in nature. Yammering Jesus!


The statues were busy soiling the façade with their verdigris.


The grand globe of tropical beetles in the main hallway was a contemporary artwork, though.

After that, it was mostly early renaissance and so on, indeed saints and biblical scenes aplenty. Oh, and a certain “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louise David. Been there, done that. I am also very much cured from any interest in Rubens I may have had.



By looking at details, one can find absurd motifs and thus new interest in the old paintings. I don’t know what to think about the expressions of those guys, but all that praying is clearly not good for your mental health.

The greatest reward of the museum was however the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder



Detail from “The fall of the rebel angels”.


…and “The temptation of St. Anthony”, a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch; apparently a copy, though.

Okay, everyone likes those quirky little critters squirming about all over the canvas, big deal. But I still find these artworks very exciting. Bosch is more zany and solipsist, while Brueghel gives rather earnest insight into the life in the Lowlands in the late middle ages, as has often been stated. A bleak and dirty place, it was.

After my mother left for the airport, I had some time to kill in Brussels.


The waffles car is a common sight in Brussels…


Anti-establishment anarchist carnevals are probably not as common, but hardly unheard-of. The exact target of the manifestation seemed a bit unclear to me, but the costumes were interesting. I suppose that you get arrested for wearing masks at demonstrations in Finland, so maybe the manifestations against the control society has some effect.


The big character reminds me of the Heedra from the manga “Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind” by Hayao Miyazaki more than just a little. Extra geek points scored.


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