Henrick Peetersen van Middelburch, Den Bibel. Tgeheele Oude ende Nyeuwe Testament (1535)

Renske Hoff

Between 1532 and 1546, the Antwerp printer Henrick Peetersen van Middelburch published two complete Dutch Bibles as well as multiple New Testaments. He did not initiate new translations or publication formats for his editions but efficiently drew on the high success rates of Bibles from fellow Antwerp printers, in particular Jacob van Liesvelt, Willem Vorsterman, and Michiel Hillen van Hoochstraten. His 1535 complete Bible edition, for instance, very closely resembles Jacob van Liesvelt’s Bible of 1534, in text and paratext. This relative lack of ‘originality’ has led to an underrepresentation of Peetersen’s Bible editions in most scholarly works on early modern Dutch Bibles. However, Peetersen’s printing and publishing endeavours clearly display to what extent the Dutch early modern Bible business was precisely that: a business. Peetersen provided readers with editions with plenty paratextual and visual elements, in neat lay-out, and with translations identical to those of Bibles that already proved their success. His Bibles reflect, in a way, not so much a striving towards originality, but rather the prosperous status quo.

This copy of Peetersen van Middelburch’s complete Bible edition from 1535, kept at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel (signature: Bibel-S. S.40 101), was owned by Princess-Countess Elisabeth Sophie Marie von Schleswig-Holstein-Norburg (1683-1767). She glued her bookplate onto the flyleaf in the front of the book. Elisabeth Sophie Marie was an ardent book collector and was also responsible for several religious publications. She started collecting Bibles in 1740, and within less than 25 years, she brought together a total of roughly 1,100 books, which she eventually left to be kept in Brunswick Palace, nearby Wolfenbüttel, in 1764. In addition to this large number of Bibles, she also owned books on natural history, literary works, and tracts by and about women.

Elisabeth Sophie Marie collected Bibles in various languages. Her library contained, for instance, 47 polyglot Bibles, 9 medieval Latin manuscripts, 19 Hebrew Bibles, and 9 Arabic Bibles. The Peetersen van Middelburch Bible was among no fewer than 34 Bibles printed in the Low Countries. In 1752, a preliminary catalogue of the book collection was published. The catalogue is fully available online as part of the exhibition ‘Luthermania’ of the Herzog August Bibliothek: http://www.luthermania.de/buch/show/1184#page/6/mode/2up. The frontispiece of the catalogue provides an imaginary, architectonical depiction of Elisabeth Sophie Marie’s library, surrounded by putti, and overlooked by a portrait of the book collector herself.

Portrait of Elisabeth Sophie Marie of Schleswig-Holstein-Norburg (1747) by Balthasar Denner, in the collection of the Herzog August Library

Elisabeth Sophie Marie’s collection testifies to her broad interest in the development of Bible translations, from the Middle Ages up to the eighteenth century. Although Elisabeth Sophie Marie was Lutheran herself, she collected Bibles across confessional divides. Her Bible collection functioned as a way to delve into the historic, multilingual background of the confessional dynamics of her own time. As a representative of popular Bible reading cultures in the sixteenth-century Dutch context, the 1535 Peetersen van Middelburch Bible clearly fitted this purpose.

Source: Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel: Bibel-S. 4° 101. Reproductions by the Herzog August Bibliothek. All images reproduced with permission.

Futher reading

Bepler, Jill. “Die fürstliche Witwe als Büchersammlerin. Spuren weiblicher Lektüre in der Frühen Neuzeit.” Der wissenschaftliche Bibliothekar. Festschrift für Werner Arnold. Ed. Detleve Hellfaier et al. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009. 19–40.

Gleixner, Ulrike. “Die lesende Fürstin: Büchersammlungen als lebenslange Bildungspraxis.” Vormoderne Bildungsgänge. Selbst- und Fremdbeschreibung in der Frühen Neuzeit. Ed. Juliane Jacobi et al. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2010. 207–24.