Colard Mansion  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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. 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, and it was from Mansion's press that the first books printed in English (Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye) and French came. 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.

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. 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

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