Antoine Morillon, librarian of Cardinal Granvelle

Antoine Morillon was hired as the librarian and secretary of Latin letters of the Cardinal Granvelle around the late 1530’s (Brooker, 2015; Crawford, 1998a; Wrede, 1996). We are aware of this circumstance since the IMA is joined with a letter from Morillon to Granvelle considered as their first communication and proving that he used to offer his services to the Cardinal for a considerable period of time (Brooker, 2014). Born and bred in Leuven around 1520, he studied with his older brother, Maximilian in Collegium Trilingue Louvainese, since his father was Guy Morillon of Burgundy, a civil servant for the Emperor. His scholarly interest aimed to two publications of Horace and Ovid’s works in 1507 and his friendship with Erasmus give a strong hint to the education he would apply to his sons (Forrer, 1909; Morillon & Brooker, 2014, pp. 8–9). Antoine became an archaeologist and classic philologist with a great passion for engraving roman medals (Crawford, 1998b; Wrede, 1996). with at least three portrait medal’s engravings attributed to him. Following his father path, he was keen on Roman history and culture.

His older brother followed the clergy professionally. He was one of the closest friends of Granvelle and he became vicar-general after the first’s elevation as Cardinal (Morillon & Brooker, 2014). In the next years, Maximilien continued to grow his power under the propitiousness of the Cardinal and he played the most important role to the salvation of Granvelle’s manuscripts hosted in Brussels when the Cardinal’s palace was looted (Brooker, 2015, p. 65). After Antoine’s death, Maximilien, who was a famous antiquarian as well, inherited his brother collection of medals and its engravings (Forrer, 1909).

As we have seen, the cultural influence and patronage between Italy and the imperial ambassador was strong (Levin, 2018, p. 200). At the same time, Morillon was in Italy as part of a programme aiming at the recording of classical roman inscriptions(Morillon & Brooker, 2014, pp. 9–10) (Morillon & Brooker, 2014, pp. 9–10). Both this participance and Granvelle’s patronage were his warranties to access many famous private libraries of the time. Morillon’s acquaintances and friendships of that period reveal his belonging to a great network of scholars and intellectuals of the era, such as Jean Matal and Stephanus Vinandus Pighius.

Jean Matal, aka Johannes Matalius or Metellus (1510-1597) had a very similar curricle to that of Morillon and Pighius. He was born in Burgundy, which at that time was also under Habsburgian occupation. His work has not been particularly recognised probably because it was never published, just as was the Morillon’s case. He worked as secretary of the historian Antonio Agustín y Albanell (1516-1586). His systematic work on antiquity and epigraphy created a very important basis for the scientific approach to it in the second half of the 16th century (Carbonell Manils & González Germain, 2012, p. 149). Jean Matal studied in Italy where he was a pupil of Andrea Alciato[1]. He was in the circles of the humanists in Italy and travelled in Europe following Antonio Agustín. Some of his correspondence with Cassander[2] has been published (Kulawik, 2017). 

At the Real Bibliotheca, one can read today 17 letters between the Cardinal and his librarian, Antoine Morillon, written no latter than in 1545 proving that Granvelle even as a young bishop, he was a pioneer envisioning the establishment of a large library and an art collection as mentioned (Wrede, 1996).  A letter from 1545 by Morillon shows that he was sent by the Cardinal to the center of the publishing industry of that time, Venice[3], in order to purchase books on his behalf.

In 15477 Granvelle received four chests with the new arrivals for his library, bought and bound in Italy. Today, the majority of these books can be found at the Municipal library of Besancon, Bibliothèque d’etude et de conservation. Morillon’s stay in Rome was under the aegis of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza to whom he also offered his services as the intermediate and selector of manuscripts and of the copyists to work on Mendoza’s collection as analysed above (Wrede, 1996).

The correspondence between Morillon and Jean Matal during 1546 explains that he returned for a period in Brussels but then he departed again for Italy seeking for Greek manuscripts and artworks for the Cardinal. During this second stay in Italy, Morillon hired artists to create replicas such as wax reliefs and drawings of Antiquity’s artworks (Wrede, 1996). From an inventory catalogue of 1547 we can see that 50 engravings were sent to the Cardinal made by the School of Raphael or even Raphael himself and some others by the School of Fontainebleau (Wrede, 1996).

The third and last journey of Antoine Morillon to Rome was in the year 1549 for the same purpose. Morillon must have be then in daily interaction with scholars and intellectuals of his time (Crawford, 1998b). Among them was his former classmate at the Trilingue Collegium, Stephanus Phigius. Phigius, originally from the Netherlands, was a scholar and antiquarian of Roman history, who would finally succeed Morillon at the services of Cardinal Granvelle after 1557, a year after Antoine Morillon’s death in Brussels (Crawford, 1998b).


[1] Cardinal Granvelle was a student of Alciato as well. Andrea Alciato (1492-1550) was a jurist origined from Italy whose publication of Emblemata was immensely distributed and established the genre.

[2] George Cassander (1513-1566) was a famous theologian and humanist.

[3]More specifical, Aldus Manutius printing office was already famous for the classical publications, the editions of his son and grandson remain in high esteem and the publications of Giorgio de’ Ferrari were very popular. Additionally, there were many important binders (Hobson).