A Maturing Market: The Iberian Book World in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century, edited by Alexander S. Wilkinson and Alejandra Ulla Lorenzo

In: Journal of Jesuit Studies

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.


Library of the Written Word, volume 59; The Handpress World, volume 44. Leiden: Brill, 2017. Pp. xvi + 286. Hb, $139.00.

The history of book production and consumption in seventeenth-century Europe is a subject that has recently experienced considerable fortune. Studies on the Iberian book world have received a great boost through Iberian Books, the University College Dublin project led since 2006 by Alexander Wilkinson. Together with Alejandra Ulla Lorenzo, he edited the three volumes of the noteworthy bibliography Iberian Books – Libros Ibéricos (Leiden: Brill, 2010–15), which analytically lists the books published in Spanish, Portuguese or in the areas of Iberian influence until 1650. The two scholars are now the editors of A Maturing Market, a new volume that brings together fourteen interdisciplinary essays focusing on the evolution of the book world in the Golden Age of the Iberian printing production.

The book is divided into four main sections, the first of which is titled “Surveys of the Book Trade.” In the first chapter, Alexander Wilkinson provides an overview of the structure of the Iberian book world during the so-called “Iron Century,” based on the analysis of the data collected by the Iberian Books project. The second essay, by César Manrique, deals with the circulation of books. The contribution analyzes the case of the city of Antwerp, one of the most important book production centers of the Early Modern Age. The study focuses on the city’s complex commercial system and the processes of book distribution towards Spain, investigating the connections with the commercial networks of Madrid and Seville. The most interesting part of the essay concerns the strategies implemented by some of the biggest publishing companies of Antwerp (Moretus and Van Keerberghen), which often used the channels of religious orders for their commercial objectives. Balthazar I Moretus, for example, sought help from the Society of Jesus, approaching directly the influential Spanish Jesuit Felipe de Peralta in order to find a trusted agent in Madrid. The internationality of the Iberian book trade is highlighted even more in the chapter by Idalia García, which focuses on the importation of Spanish books into the colonized territories of New Spain. This excellent essay is the result of an analysis of documents preserved in the Archivo General de Mexico, such as those produced by the Inquisition Offices. At the same time, García analyzes archival material, such as the precious memorias de libros, which were informal book inventories made for both personal and commercial purposes. The result is an extremely interesting overview of the circulation of books in seventeenth-century New Spain. The last chapter of the first section is offered by the co-editor of the book, Alejandra Ulla Lorenzo, who explores the contribution of women to the Iberian book trade in the Early Modern Age. Although the documentary sources are quite limited, the author has managed to tell the stories of some of the women involved in book production and their role in the world of the pre-modern Iberian book.The second part of the volume is entitled “Addressing the Reader” and opens with Sarah Malfatti’s brilliant essay The Book-Reader Relationship in Golden-Age Spain. The author focuses her study on the relationships between books and readers as described in Cervantes’s Don Quijote. Through a careful analysis of the novel, Malfatti highlights the systems of book circulation, the reading practices, and the changes in literary tastes of the seventeenth-century Spanish audience. In the second chapter, José María Pérez Fernández’s analysis of paratexts reconstructs the history of the intellectual networks made by authors, publishers, and book professionals that led to the development of what he describes as “a virtual third space between the inveterate system of aristocratic patronage and the growing mass of urban consumers” (102). The essay by Esther Villegas investigates the authorial and editorial strategies that, starting from the seventeenth century, have strongly contributed to constructing the modern representation of the author as an autonomous artist.The third part of the volume, “The Stage in Print,” is dedicated to the production and circulation of a specific literary genre that was very successful in that period—printed theatre plays. The section opens with an essay by Don Cruisckshank that offers a remarkable overview of this type of book product, illustrating the different typographical developments and the commercial strategies implemented by publishers to make their volumes palatable to the readers’ audience. The following essay, by John O’Neill, focuses on a specific case and reconstructs the entire production process of Cervantes’s Ocho comedias, from the author’s original manuscript to the printed edition published in Madrid by Francisca Medina in 1615. The last essay of this section, written by Manuel Calderón Calderón, is dedicated to the Castilian regulation concerning the publication of plays and fiction, which were literary genres perceived by the authorities as emblems of a moral decline.The fourth and final section of the volume is dedicated to some specific segments of the seventeenth-century publishing market: chivalric literature, medical publishing, and news. In the first chapter, Aurelio Vargas Díaz-Toledo underlines the role played by Portuguese legislation in slowing down the production process of chivalric books. Furthermore, the author highlights the changing trends of the publishers, who increasingly chose to invest their energies in the promotion of new literary genres, such as picaresque and pastoral novels. Hervé Baudry’s essay, on the other hand, is dedicated to medical publishing in Portugal, which was severely affected by the overwhelming numerical and qualitative superiority of foreign production. The last two essays deal with the production and consumption of news. Henry Ettinghausen gives a detailed overview of the typographic genre of single-event newsletter, while Ricard Expósito Amagat offers a remarkable analysis of the reception and consumption of news in Catalonia. The essay is based mainly on the study of diary sources, and it gives a very interesting reconstruction of how actually Catalan readers read the news during that period.

Overall, the volume covers a wide geographical range, focusing on a very vibrant socio-cultural context. Nevertheless, the reader interested in the cultural dynamics of the pre-modern Iberian world would have expected a deeper attention to the production and consumption of religious books. In particular, it would have been interesting to have some more information about the impact that Jesuit culture had on the book production systems in the areas of Iberian influence. As a matter of fact, the Jesuit order was one of the greatest “producers” (and consumers) of written culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and it is well known that publishers working within the Spanish and Portuguese empires competed to publish the works of the Jesuits. However, despite some gaps the volume is still a coherent and very well-organized collection. The greatest merit of A Maturing Market is to provide a broad perspective of what the seventeenth-century Iberian publishing industry actually was. The readers interested in Spanish and Portuguese Golden Age and in the early modern European book trade will find in this collection a very useful research and study tool, capable of showing how to profitably use both traditional documentary sources and new bibliographic resources.


If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 20 20 0
Full Text Views 128 128 20
PDF Downloads 40 40 3