Colard Mansion

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Page from the Ovide Moralisé, with woodcut and added illumination (Bruges, Public Library, Inc. 3877, f. 294v).

Colard Mansion (or Colart, before 1440 – after May 1484) was a 15th-century Flemish scribe and printer who worked together with William Caxton. He is known as the first printer of a book with copper engravings, and as the printer of the first books in English and French.


Colard Mansion was a central figure in the early printing industry in Bruges. He was active as early as 1454 as a bookseller, and was also active as a scribe, translator and contractor for manuscripts, which meant entering into contracts with the clients, and organizing and sub-contracting the elements such as scribing, decorating and binding.[1] From 1474 until 1476 he worked together with the early English printer William Caxton, and he continued the company on his own afterwards. Caxton probably learned the art of printing from Mansion,[2] and it was from Mansion's press that the first books printed in English (Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye) and French came.[3] He moved to the Burg, the commercial heart of Bruges at the time, in 1478. Mansion suffered heavily under the economic crisis in Bruges in the 1480s, and only one work was printed after the death of Mary of Burgundy in 1482. Nothing is known with certainty about his life after 1484, although he may have moved to Picardy.


Mansion sold illuminated manuscripts to the aristocracy, and luxurious incunabula to the bourgeoisie, but he was one of the first to also publish smaller and cheaper books of only twenty to thirty pages, mainly in French. Nowadays, 25 editions of incunabula by Mansion alone are known, making him the most prolific of Bruges' early printers. Only two of these are in Latin, all others are in French, many of them first editions. Customers of Mansion include Charles de Croÿ, prince of Chimay, and Marie, the widow of Louis de Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol. Mansion has been called the first printer of luxury books.[4]

He collaborated with major manuscript illuminators, such as the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book, who were fast losing work to printing, or copyists of their work. In fact only two of his books are illustrated, the influential Ovide Moralisé with woodcuts, and a French translation of Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium, the first book to be illustrated with engravings, some of which have been claimed to be the work of the Dresden Prayer Book Master and other identified illuminators in the circle of the Master of Anthony of Burgundy. As intaglio prints, the nine engravings had to be printed separately from the relief text and then pasted in, and only three copies are known with the engravings. More copies are known without the engravings, several of which contain illuminations instead. It has been suggested that this was Mansion's original intention (other incunabula left spaces for manual illustration), but that this hybrid product did not attract the wealthy buyers of illuminations, so the engravings were an afterthought, aimed at a less exclusive market.[5] Mansion is also known as the translator of at least five texts from Latin to French, including Le dialogue des créatures, printed by Dutch Gerard Leeu in 1482.

Known works

Woodcut from the Ovide Moralisé illustrating Mars (Bruges, Public Library, Inc. 3877, f. 9r)

Incunabula by Mansion are scattered throughout collections mainly in Western Europe. The largest such collection is in Paris, and the 16 copies of 10 different titles in the Public Library of Bruges form the second biggest collection.[13]


  1. ^ Such a contract is described on p. 59 of T Kren & S McKendrick (eds), Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, Getty Museum/Royal Academy of Arts, 2003, ISBN 1-903973-28-7
  2. ^ British History Online
  3. ^ The Story of Books Archived 2007-08-16 at the Wayback Machine by Gertrude Burford Rawlings, 1901
  4. ^ Drukkunst bezorgde Brugge internationale faam Het Nieuwsblad, 2004-12-21.
  5. ^ Copies with engravings are in Amiens, Boston MFA & Getty private Collection, England. T Kren & S McKendrick (eds), Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, pp. 271-4, Getty Museum/Royal Academy of Arts, 2003, ISBN 1-903973-28-7, see also An Introduction to a History of Woodcut, Arthur M. Hind, p. 592, Houghton Mifflin Co. 1935 (in USA), reprinted Dover Publications, 1963 ISBN 0-486-20952-0
  6. ^ a b c d e f Arlima, archives du littérature du moyen-age
  7. ^ Flandrica Copy of the 1976 (?) edition at Flandrica
  8. ^ Mitchell, J. Allan. "The Fall of Princes". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 07 March 2007; last revised 10 October 2007.
  9. ^ Musée des arts et métiers exposition on early printed books
  10. ^ André Lapidus Archived 2006-11-16 at the Wayback Machine 1998
  11. ^ Kelly, William A. (2007). Low Countries imprints in Scottish research libraries. Waxmann Verlag. p. 157. ISBN 978-3-8309-1866-0. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
  12. ^ Historische Bronnen Brugge
  13. ^ Mansion collection of the Bruges library (Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge)


  • T Kren & S McKendrick (eds), Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, Getty Museum/Royal Academy of Arts, 2003, ISBN 1-903973-28-7
  • Biography at Historische Bronnen Brugge Last accessed at September 27, 2007
  • Short biography in English at the Dutch Royal Library Last accessed at September 27, 2007
  • Carton, Charles Louis (1848). Colard Mansion et les imprimeurs brugeois du 15me siècle (in French). Vande Casteele-Werbroeck. p. 44. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
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