During the 15th century, the trading metropolis of Bruges was a flourishing centre for several luxury industries. Panel paintings and illuminated manuscripts were exported from the city all around the known world. The same was also true of more recent products, such as printed books (incunabula) and engravings. Colard Mansion moved to Bruges and set up a business that operated at the intersection of these different disciplines. He used a combination of new and old techniques in an innovative way to create previously unknown and interesting products, which found their way into the collections of many of the greatest bibliophiles of the day. But to make these innovations possible, he was forced to take huge financial risks. As a result, Mansion went bankrupt in 1484. He fled the city to escape his creditors and thereafter disappears from the pages of history.
Bruges Public Library holds one of the most important collections of incunabula by Colard Mansion in the world. This collection, which is largely unknown to the general public, forms the basis for a new exhibition in the Groeningemuseum. Mansion’s manuscripts and incunabula are displayed within the wider context of the international book production and trade of the day, in which Bruges was one of Europe’s leading players. His network, the traditional and innovative aspects of his oeuvre, his extraordinary entrepreneurship and the origin of his ideas are all put under the spotlight. Because Mansion was the first printer to experiment with the use of engravings as illustrations for printed books, his works are presented within an interdisciplinary artistic context. In addition to a rich selection of manuscripts, incunabula and engravings, the exhibition also includes woodcuts, engraved metal objects and other works of art.