A Brill Calendar: March 3
A New Printer at Leiden University
Few individuals oversaw the ascent of Leyden University and its Printing Office to a position of universal esteem as effectively as Franciscus Raphelengius.
When he and his family first set eyes on the city, he had already reached the age of 46; a Hebrew scholar of international fame and son-in-law of Christoffel Plantijn (c. 1520 – 1589), Printer to the Academy since May 1, 1583 and by far the most important bookman of his age. Philip II, King of Spain, had already appointed Plantijn in 1570 as ‘prototypographus’ in the Low Countries: ‘First among Printers’, surveying and monitoring on behalf of the Crown activities in his trade and profession.
As soon as Plantijn’s daughter Margaretha and her husband settled in Leyden with their children, Franciscus was appointed by the Academy as the Printer’s successor, on March 3 1586. His father-in-law had already left Leyden; returning to his main office in Antwerp when that city was conquered by the Duke of Parma’s army the previous year.
Soon after this first assignment, Franciscus Raphelengius got a second task: Professor of Hebrew at the University. It is seldom that a complex craft and noteworthy scholarship developed between themselves such synergy. In what became the final decade of Franciscus’s life, the Press of the Academy, the ‘Officina Plantiniana apud Raphelengiis’ not only grew into the best in Holland; but it also set a standard in scholarly excellence as long as it lasted under that name; namely till 1619. Franciscus’s sons – Christoffel, Frans and Joost – continued the parental enterprise and published, posthumously, in 1613 the great Arabic-Latin Dictionary their father had perseved with during most of his life.
When we view the first two decades of the 17th century, we see that the prestige of Leyden as a centre for scholarly publishing is on par with Cologne, Basel, Lyon, Paris, Venice and Antwerp; and the scene set for a new family, also hailing from southern Low Countries: the one of Elzevier.