Portrait of Robert I from Theodori Janssonii ab Almeloveen M.D. De vitis Stephanorum: celebrium typographorum dissertatio epistolica, in qua de Stephanorum stirpe, indefessis laboribus, varia fortuna atque libris, quos orbi erudito eorundem officinae emendatissime impressos unquam exhibuerunt subjecto illorum indice accuratius agitur: atque obiter multa scitu jucunda adsperguntur. Subjecta est H. Stephani querimonia artis typographiae. Eiusdem epistola de statu suae typographicae (Amsterdam, 1683), Sig. +2v.
Robert I was the second son of Henri I and Guyonne Viart, and the brother of François I and Charles. He remains one of the most famous members of the Estienne family, known not only for his commitment to the typographical art, but also because of the important part he played in the printing of classical texts in sixteenth-century France. His dedication to producing scholarly texts and translations, coupled with the readability of his characters and the low price of his high-quality publications, made him even more famous than his father.
Laurentii Vallæ de Latina elegantia… Eiusdem in Antoniu[m] Raudensem annotationum libellus, cum Antidoto in Pogium (Paris, 1533), title page with Estienne device 4.
Both Worth’s earliest texts by Robert I date from 1533 and bear one of the earliest versions of the printing device which would become the hallmark of the Estienne press. Robert had received an early and especially rich education and his knowledge of Greek, Latin and Hebrew would be put to good use in producing exceptionally scholarly editions of both classical and contemporary authors. This book, by one of the most famous humanists of all, Lorenzo Valla (1407-57), had first been printed in 1471 and subsequently became a major best seller. Its focus on Latin grammar and stylistics would be reflected in many of Robert I’s later publications.
Epitome Iodoci Badii Ascensii in Sex Latinæ linguæ elegantiaru[m] libros Laurentii Vallæ. Et subinde non contemnendæ explanationes. Antonii item Mancinelli lima suis locis apposite (Paris, 1533), title page with Estienne device 5.
In the same volume may be found Worth’s copy of Jodocus Badius’ Epitome in sex Latinae linguae elegantiarum libros L. Vallae which was published in the same year by Robert I and which may be seen as a companion work to Valla’s own De Latina elegantia. Badius’ contemporary epitome of Valla’s work was a popular text in its own right but there were other good reasons to publish it for Robert I had married Badius’ daughter Perrette in 1526 and Badius (1462-1535) was himself an influential printer in Paris. Works such as these helped establish Robert I’s credentials as a scholar printer.
De arte supputandi libri quatuor, Cutheberti Tonstalli (Paris, 1538), title page bearing device 5.
Robert I was still using the Estienne device 5 five years later as we can see on the title page of Worth’s copy of Cuthbert Tunstall’s De arte supputandi libri quatour (Paris, 1538). This edition was previously owned by Worth’s father John Worth (1648-1688), who had been Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and by his grandfather, Edward Worth (d. 1659), who had been Church of Ireland Bishop of Killaloe. Tunstall (1474-1559) based his text on that of Luca Pacioli’s Summa de Arithmetica and concentrated on mathematical problems of addition and subtraction. By producing it, Robert I was continuing his father’s tradition of printing scientific texts. The book would have appealed to Worth not only because it had been printed by Robert I but also because it fitted in well with his extensive collection of mathematical books.
Biblia: Hebraea, Chaldæa, Græca & Latina nomina virorum, mulierum, populorum, idolorum, vrbium, fluuiorum, montium, cæterorúmque locorum quæ in Bibliis leguntur, restituta, cum Latina interpretatione. Locorum descriptio è Cosmographis. Index præterea rerum & sententiarum quæ in iisdem Bibliis continentur. His accesserunt schemata Tabernaculi Mosaici, & Templi Salomonis, quæ praeeunte Francisco Vatablo Hebraicarum literarum Regio professore doctissimo, summa arte & fide expressa sunt (Paris, 1540), title page with device 6.
Robert I’s most controversial books were his editions of the Bible. In 1528 he printed his first Latin edition of the Bible and, as Schreiber notes, this was his first folio publication. Robert, using his extensive philological skills, produced a corrected text but his changes proved too much for the theologians of the Sorbonne. Despite the ensuing scandal, Robert weathered the theological storm (not least due to protection from the king). It was certainly not the only edition he produced: Worth collected his large 1540 illustrated edition, which, as Schreiber notes, later became the foundation of the official Roman Vulgate.
Biblia: Hebraea, Chaldæa, Græca & Latina nomina virorum, mulierum, populorum, idolorum, vrbium, fluuiorum, montium, cæterorúmque locorum quæ in Bibliis leguntur, restituta, cum Latina interpretatione. Locorum descriptio è Cosmographis. Index præterea rerum & sententiarum quæ in iisdem Bibliis continentur. His accesserunt schemata Tabernaculi Mosaici, & Templi Salomonis, quæ praeeunte Francisco Vatablo Hebraicarum literarum Regio professore doctissimo, summa arte & fide expressa sunt (Paris, 1540), p. 30: image of a priest.
Despite this gigantic work and the evident scholarship involved in its creation the religious community of the Sorbonne viewed him with suspicion. For them, his eleven editions of the Bible in Latin, Hebrew and French (all of them with new modifications, additions and corrections to the original text) and his twelve editions of the New Testament were attacks on Catholicism. Yet there was little they could do as Robert retained the support of King François I (1494-1547). This support was made tangible in his appointment as King’s Printer for Hebrew and Latin texts in 1539 and later as King’s Printer for Greek.
[Tes Kaines Diathekes hapanta}: Nouum Testamentum. Ex bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1546), has two different devices, device B3 on the title page and device 8 on leaf zz6v.
His first Greek edition of the New Testament appeared in 1546 and in it he used the Grecs du Roy designed by Claude Garamond (d. 1561). He made explicit his gratitude to the king for his patronage of the Greek types (and Estienne himself) in his preface. Though unacknowledged, the text owed much to Erasmus’ Novum Testamentum and he continued this trend in his third edition, printed in 1550 at Paris, before his departure to Geneva.
[Tes kaines diathekes hapanta. Evangelion. Kata Matthaion. Kata Markon. Kata Loukan. Kata Ioannen. Praweis ton apostolon]: Nouum Iesu Christi D.N. Testamentum. Ex Bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1550), the first folio Estienne New Testament, also has two different devices: B1 and device 10.
His 1550 Greek New Testament, also collected by Worth, was undoubtedly one of the high points of biblical printing. Known as the Editio Regia, the royal edition, it used all three of the Grecs du Roy to produce a text of unparalleled beauty and outstanding scholarship. The critical apparatus Robert I introduced in this, his third edition of the New Testament, ensured its success. At the same time, it provoked the fury of the Sorbonne theologians. Schreiber notes that ‘of all Robert Estienne’s publications, it is also the one most directly responsible for his departure to Geneva’.
Thanks to the freedom and protection he received from his position as King’s Printer, Robert Estienne was also able to publish two singular editions of the Bible in Hebrew at a very low price for Parisian students. Because of the cheap price and the quality of his translations, these editions played a crucial part in biblical studies. In general Robert I tried to keep his prices low, aware that his reading public were poorly paid scholars and that many of his subjects might not appeal to a wider public.
Dictionarium, seu Latinæ linguæ Thesaurus, non singulas modo dictiones continens, sed integras quoque Latinè & loquendi. & scribendi formulas ex optimis quibusque authoribus, ea quidem nunc accessione, vt nihil propemodum obseruatu dignum sit apud Oratores, Historicos, Poetas, omnis denique generis scriptores, quod hic non promptum paratúmque habeat (Paris, 1543), p. 603 detail: beginning of F.
He was aware that his market was mainly a scholarly one. His edited versions of Latin classics by writers such as Cicero, Terence, Virgil, and others, complete with detailed commentaries met with considerable success. Undoubtedly one of his most important works for this scholarly reading public was his Dictionarium, seu Latinæ linguæ Thesaurus (Paris, 1543) which Armstrong calls his ‘greatest monument of Latin scholarship’. Coupled with this magnum opus were works on Latin grammar, priced inexpensively for the student market. By 1557, when he published a French grammar, he already had published around 13 textbooks on grammar and one French-Latin dictionary.
The death of King François I in 1547 changed the political scene for Robert I who did not find the same level of support from King Henri II (1519-59). In 1550, the same year Robert I produced his wonderful Greek New Testament, he decided to flee to Geneva. His Résponse, printed there in 1552, explained his decision: the censorship of the Sorbonne and the many attacks on his biblical editions had taken their toll, the final blow being their rejection of the 1550 New Testament. The death of his royal protector had left him, a Protestant, exposed to the power of the Catholic Church in France. But there were other more mundane considerations: in 1550 his son, Henri II Estienne, had translated Jean Calvin’s Catechism into Greek. The plan had been to publish it at Geneva but the Estiennes learnt that another translation, cheaper than their own, had come on the market. Because Robert I’s printing house was still at Paris he was unable to request a protection for his publication from Geneva and in Paris he was already under pressure from the Sorbonne. The ensuing loss of money may well have been the final straw which saw him leave Paris for Geneva.
[Tou hagiou Ioustinou philiosophou kai martyros, Zena kai Sereuo. Logos parainetikos pros Ellenas. Pros Tryphona ioudaion dialogos … Ex Bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1551), title page.
Naturally there was a transition period and Worth owned one work which reflects this. Robert I’s edition of the works of St Justin Martyr had been mentioned in the preface to the 1550 New Testament and was printed at Paris in 1551 – by his brother Charles who had remained Catholic and kept on the Parisian printing house. But soon Robert I was turning his attention to more reformed themes while also producing classical texts. An example of this may likewise be found in the Worth Library, his edition of François Hotman’s Commentariorvm in orationes M. T. Ciceronis volvmen primvm (Geneva, 1554). Two years later, in 1556, the Genevan Council awarded Robert citizenship.
Francisci Hotomani commentariorvm in orationes M. T. Ciceronis volvmen primvm (Geneva, 1554), detail of large device 6.
Robert I’s commitment to the Reformation in Geneva was clear in the publications of his later years and was made even more apparent by his decision to leave all he possessed to his son Henri II (who, like him, was a Protestant), rather than his sons Robert II and Charles (who had returned to Catholicism). Robert I is known today as one of the most important printers of the reformed movement.
Pauli Iovii Novocomensis Vitae Dvodecim Vicecomitvm Mediolani Principum. Ex Bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1549), portrait of Actius. ‘Actius’ here refers to Azzone Visconti (1302-39), Lord of Milan.
Amert, Kay, The Scythe and the Rabbit. Simon de Colines and the Culture of the Book in Renaissance Paris, edited by Robert Bringhurst (New York, 2012).
Armstrong, Elizabeth, Robert Estienne, Royal Printer (Cambridge, 1954).
Bernard, Auguste, Les Estienne et les types grecs de François Ier, complément des annales stéphaniens (Paris, 1856).
Beza, Theodore, Les vrais portraits des hommes illustres (Geneva, 1581), pp 158-159.
Didot, Ambroise Firmin, ‘Les Estienne. Henri I, François I et II, Robert I, II et III, Henri II, Paul et Antoine…’, Nouvelle bibliographie générale, (Paris, 1856; Copenhagen, 1965 reprint), vol. 15-16, pp 486-518.
Renouard, Antoine, Annales de l’imprimerie des Estienne (Geneva, 1971 reprint).
Rott, Jean & Peter, Rodolphe, ‘Exposition Jean Calvin’, Revue d’histoire et de philosophie religieuse, 45 (1965), 128-155.
Schreiber, Fred, The Estiennes. An annotated catalogue of 300 highlights of their various presses (New York, 1982).
Schreiber, Fred, Simon de Colines (Utah, 1995).
 Schreiber, Fred, The Estiennes. An annotated catalogue of 300 highlights of their various presses (New York, 1982), p. 48.
 Ibid., p. 64.
 Ibid., p. 97.
 Didot, Ambroise Firmin, ‘Les Estienne. Henri I, François I et II, Robert I, II et III, Henri II, Paul et Antoine…’, Nouvelle bibliographie générale (Paris, 1856; Copenhagen, 1965 reprint), vol. 15-16, pp 486-518.
 Armstrong, Elizabeth, Robert Estienne Royal Printer (Cambridge, 1954), p. 22.