In 1473 Dirk Martensand the German, Jan van Westphalia, printed the first book to come from a Flemish press, in Aalst. The art of book printing was less than twenty years old at the time. This rare jewel has recently been restored and is now available in digital formas well.
The book, from 1473, is entitledSpeculum conversionis peccatorum(“Mirror of the conversion of the sinners”) and is from the Limburg Carthusian and prolific writer Dionysius van Rijckel (1402/3 – 1471).
Dirk Martens’ first book makes a modest impression. It is not large and comprises only 28 pages. It has no title page; the information on the place and year of publication of the edition are at the back of the book. It is part of a binding containing five very early books, including three others that Dirk Martens put on the market in Aalst in 1473–1474.
Only one complete copy of the first printed book from our regions is kept in Belgium. It is located in the library of the Ruusbroec Society, a research group from the University of Antwerp with strong roots in the Jesuit community in Antwerp. A second, incomplete copy is kept in the Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels.
The Antwerp copy was slightly damaged and has been restored with the support of a private sponsor, by the Dutch conservation expert Marijn de Valk (Middelburg). Thanks to this treatment the book looks extremely good again, more than half a millennium after it came off the press.
The Antwerp University library seized the opportunity to digitalise the book in its entirety. To a very high standard, because the objective of the digitalisation is to get as close as possible to the original. In future we are now able to leaf through the book on our own computers.