Friday, November 28, 2008

Not a book or a movie, but a place

Today, I visited Aargh Ink, Jenny Crusie's blog, after a brief pause and found she had written about the wonders of maps, which are things that we very much love in this household too, which made me think of this place, which is definitely my favourite museum in Belgium, and is in my top five, along with John Soane's house and various art galleries.

You may not recognise, or even have heard of, the Plantin-Moretus museum, but it is the most wonderful place. Of course, I would say that, being a total bookaholic, because this was one of the first book-factories in Europe. Christophe Plantin was a Frenchman who came to Antwerp because it was a centre of humanism and translations of the Bible and music, and he set up a printing house. He had a daughter, and when she married, her husband and descendants carried on the business, and their name was Moretus.

There are wonderful things in this place - on the ground floor are the presses and the proof-reading rooms, the bookshop and a study reserved for Justus Lipsius, who used to come and stay and have great thoughts. Upstairs is a warren of staircases and panelled rooms with prints and maps and globes, the first recorded image of a potato and illustrations of polar voyages complete with Esquimaux and polar bears. There are wonderful family portraits and illuminated Bibles, and Plantin's own sonnet on worldly happiness:


Avoir une maison commode, propre et belle,
Un jardin tapissé d'espaliers odorans,
Des fruits, d'excellent vin, peu de train, peu d'enfans,
Posseder seul sans bruit une femme fidèle,

N'avoir dettes, amour, ni procès, ni querelle,
Ni de partage à faire avecque ses parens,
Se contenter de peu, n'espérer rien des Grands,
Régler tous ses desseins sur un juste modèle,

Vivre avecque franchise et sans ambition,
S'adonner sans scrupule à la dévotion,
Dompter ses passions, les rendre obéissantes,

Conserver l'esprit libre, et le jugement fort,
Dire son chapelet en cultivant ses entes,
C'est attendre chez soi bien doucement la mort.

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