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Rubens, Moretus, and the Plantin Press

Cornelis-Galle-I

Cornelis Galle I, Balthasar Moretus of Antwerp, engraving. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection

Balthasar Moretus the Elder was one of the leading humanists in Antwerp and owner of the prestigious Plantin Press, then the largest publishing house in Europe. Founded by Balthasar’s grandfather Christoph Plantin in 1555, the press specialized in liturgical books such as breviaries, missals, and Bibles, as well as scholarly and theological works and humanist treatises—many of them among the most beautifully illustrated in Europe.

Moretus, who took over the press in 1610 after the death of his father Jan, was a former Latin school classmate of Rubens’s. United in their love of antiquity and the classics, the two collaborated for about 25 years on book illustrations and magnificent title pages that represent the content of the book through complex allegory. Rubens also painted a number of works for the personal collection of his lifelong friend, including at least 17 portraits of family members and historical personages; his first commissioned painting for Moretus was a scene of the Resurrection for the tomb of the publisher’s father, which he executed in 1612.