A Brill Calendar: November 28
Van Liesveldt's Execution
Few printers paid as dearly for exploiting their craft as Jacob van Liesvelt (55), beheaded on November 28, 1545, in Antwerp, the city where he was born.
The execution followed a trial bent on persecuting dissenting reformers of the practices and dogmas of the Christian faith, a dissent that had flourished since Martin Luther published his fateful propositions on the church-doors of Wittenberg, less than thirty years before.
Van Liesvelt had harnessed the new technology of typography for disseminating multiple copies of the Bible – God’s Own Word – just like Johannes Gutenberg, the illustrious inventor of the ‘Schwarze Kunst’, (the ‘Black Art’) had done for his very first exploit. Van Lieshout, by the way, wasn’t the first printer of the Book of Books in the Low Countries; a Bible printed in Delft, the ‘Historie Bijbel’ of 1477 carries that distinction. Van Liesvelt’s first Bible edition dates from 1526 and contains the New Testament in a Dutch translation of Luther’s translation into German, appearing in 1522, twelve years before Luther’s rendering of the Old Testament.
Printed book-production in Antwerp, the media-hub of the 16th century in Northern Europe, was a vital economic resource. Van Liesvelt had an ‘evergreen’ on his hands: in ’32, ’34, ’35 and ’42 new editions appeared; while glosses and comments accompanying the text in the margins of the printed pages became increasingly compatible with tenets opposing traditional views.
In slipshod interpretations of a ‘Dutch Identity’ – whatever that might entail – one often meets with the preconceived idea that sturdy Calvinism would be innate in Provinces north of the great rivers, opposing the Roman Catholic south and its Habsburg Sovereign with tireless religious zeal. Such views disregard all evidence to the contrary; best exemplified by recollecting the environment in which Jean Calvin (1509 – 1564) was born and raised: the city of Noyon, Picardy, a community strongly oriented on Antwerp; rather than on Paris.