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The Collation

The use of paragraph marks in early 16th-century Flemish editions

(UPDATE January 23: In editing this post, I inadvertently inserted an inaccurate use of “Dutch” as a modifier in the post title; I’ve now updated it to the correct “Flemish”. SW.)

The Folger Shakespeare Library has very strong Continental holdings. The first time I did research in this library, I was pleased to find a number of editions printed by the first “Belgian” printer, Dirk Martens, also known as Thierry or Theodoricus Martens (c. 1447–1534). Martens published his first book in 1473 as the associate of Johannes van Westfalen. During his remarkably long career, spanning more than five decades, Martens moved four times: the first time in 1493 from Aalst, a town about 20 miles west of Brussels, to Antwerp; in 1498 to the university town of Louvain; in 1502 back to Antwerp; and ten years later again to Louvain, where he ceased his activities in 1529. In their 2009 biography of Martens, Renaud Adam and Alexandre Vanautgaerden list 269 extant editions, as well as 32 editions that either have been lost or never existed. 1

Martens is an important printer in addition to being the first. In 1503, he published a work by Erasmus for the first time; during his rich career, he was responsible for a total of 68 editions authored, translated, or edited by the prince amongst the humanists, including 32 first editions. 2 Erasmus was not the only humanist with whom Martens collaborated. Late in 1516, for instance, he published the editio princeps of Thomas More’s Utopia, edited by Pieter Gillis and proofread by the Louvain professor and poet Gerardus Geldenhauer. 3 And from a typographical point of view, the importance of Martens can hardly be overestimated. He was the first printer in the Southern Netherlands using Greek characters, in 1591 1519, and at the turn of the century, he was the first to start using roman type. In 1518, Martens also introduced Hebrew type, and four years later italics.

The Folger possesses seven books emerging from Martens’s printing shop: one from 1501, two from 1509, one from 1517 and three from (approximately) 1519. The title page of the oldest edition shows a very rudimentary design: four justified lines of roman type of a single size on a furthermore blank page mention nothing other than the authors and titles of the text. The 1509 title page of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Aureae epistolae combines a larger black letter with roman type, all printed in red, and has a large woodcut illustration in the middle, printed in black. 

  1. Renaud Adam and Alexandre Vanautgaerden, Thierry Martens et la figure de l’imprimeur humaniste. Une nouvelle biographie, Turnhout: Brepols 2009.
  2. Adam & Vanautgaerden, Thierry Martens, p. 100.
  3. About Geldenhauer, see P.J. Blok & P.C. Molhuysen, Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek. Deel 6. Leiden: A.W. Sijthoff 1924, pp. 550–554. Available online at:
  4. The purest form of this idea can be found in John Fisher’s Eversio munitionis adversus unicam Magdalenam, which I discussed in an earlier Collation post dealing with the single vine leaf.
  5. Adam & Vanautgaerden, Thierry Martens, ill. 19 and ill. 35.
  6. Goran Proot, “Designing the Word of God: Layout and Typography of Flemish 16th-Century Folio Bibles Published in the Vernacular,” in De Gulden Passer 90:2 (2012), pp. 143–179.


“1591” = 1519 ??

Margaret — January 24, 2014


Oh my goodness, yes! Thank you for catching that.

Sarah Werner — January 24, 2014


Did the vine leaf ornament have the same function as the paragraph mark? In other words, is the vine leaf ornament the ‘roman’ translation of the ‘blackletter’ paragraph mark? Or do they function differently?

Steven Van Impe — February 2, 2014


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