The reading room of Plantijn Moretus is a hidden treasure in Antwerp. The museum’s collection consists of really old books, from the 16th and 17th century and a beautiful contemporary collection of book artist from the Southern Netherlands and Flanders.
The lecture started with showing the masterpieces of the modern collection. Since we were with the Grensland Project – all bookbinders – the emphasis was on the way these books and boxes have been made, and the way the museum takes care of the preservation of the works of art. Not only the modern collection was shown to us, but also the old show pieces. Books of Plantijn Moretus himself, the first dos-a-dos book about bookbinding, a beautiful velvet prayer book, books with very precise gilded end papers and even the smallest book I ever saw.
One of the books I liked the most was the project ‘Emotions – La Grotte du Pont d’Arc – from Veerle Rooms and Willem Persoon. The artwork consists of a box with eleven graphic imprints and poems folded in little books. To create the graphic imprints the artist used the gicleeprint method printed on thin Awagami paper made of Philippine gampi. This paper is both dense and simultanously glossy and has a nice structure. When folding out the prints and poems you feel the fibers of the paper and you see the structure. The box containing the prints and poems has been made of cardboard covered with linen and a nicely attached label.
One of the museum’s conservators told us a lot about the old books from the 16th and 17th century. A very special book was one of the first manuals for bookbinders. This bilingual book in Dutch and French is bound in a dos-a-dos way. Two books sharing the same back. Read the first book, than turn the book and you can read the other side.
Another highlight was the small velvet prayer booklet, ment to hang on ones belt. The green velvet has really faded, but you still want to touch it. Which we were alowed to do. Really cool! Some of the books had very precious gilding work either on the cover or on the inside. The so called Jansenisten books are very sober on the outside, but once you turn a page the beauty and blingbling is on the inside. One of the smalles books I ever saw was also a little paryer booklet, hidden in a bigger book. This tiny little book is made of paper, but fringed around with a very precise blanket stitch.
Attending this lecture was interesting and inspiring. The craftsmanship you can see at these books is amazing. The gilding is perfect. The bindings are so strong, they survided centuries. Seeing this craftsmanship and those beautiful materials that have been used for the old books and for the new books inspires me for Prien’s collection…. more to come …