Chrestien Wechel (1495-1554)

‘Unicum arbustum non alit duos erithacos‘.
‘One bush does not harbour two robins.’

A reformed conscience,
an European consciousness.

Marbode, Marbodei Galli poetae vetustissimi de lapidibus pretiosis enchiridion, cum scholijs Pictorij Villingensis. Eiusdem Pictorii de lapide molari carmen (Paris, 1531), title page and Sig. G8v.

This interesting title page of a work by Marbode, Bishop of Rennes (1035?-1123), displays one of the first printer’s devices of Chrestien Wechel (1495-1554). Wechel was born in Herenthals in Brabant, but moved to Paris early in his career, becoming the factor for the Basel printer Conrad Resch (fl. 1515-1526) in Paris. Sometime after 1525 Wechel married Michelle Robillart, the widow of Jean Périer (supposedly d. 1525), Master of the ‘Jeu de Paume’ on ‘St Jean de Latran’, and mother of the bookseller Charles Périer (d. 1572).[1] On 1 August 1526 he paid Resch 2,466 gold ecus for his press, and, in the same year, he began to sign his editions with the address: ‘Sub scuto Baileiensi (or Basiliensi) vico Jacobaeo’, i.e. (in French), ‘A l’escu de Basle, en la rue S. Jacques pres leglise S. Benoist’.[2]

Wechel used his first typographical device of a tree with two robins (which had several variations), from 1534 onwards. In the above image we see a tree with two birds and a banner that proclaims his motto: ‘Unicum arbustum non alit duos erithacos’ (One bush does not harbour two robins). This motto, or more precisely proverb, was clearly a warning from Wechel to his competitors, and the device itself depicts the birds in question, one chasing the other. The proverb, long used by naturalists, was taken from Erasmus of Rotterdam’s Adagia, published at Paris in 1500 and in an expanded edition in 1508: ‘Vnicum arbustum haud alit duos erithacos’. It is therefore very likely that Wechel had already read this book, and, as we shall see, he later took the risk of printing books by Erasmus (d. 1536), whom he greatly admired. An alternative hypothesis for Wechel’s bellicose choice of motto is that he was influenced by his close friend, the Italian humanist, lawyer, counsellor and writer, Andrea Alciati (1492-1550). Alciati’s famous work on emblems, which Wechel printed on a number of occasions, included the following adage, clearly inspired by that of Erasmus: ‘Parvam culinam duobus ganeonibus non sufficere’.[3]

Horapollo, Ori Apollinis Niliaci, De sacris notis & sculpturis libri duo. Quibus accessit versio, recèns per Io. Mercerum Vticensem concinnata, & obseruationes non infrugiferae (Paris, 1548), i, title page.

In 1539, Wechel opened a shop in the Rue Saint-Jean-de-Beauvais, in the house of Jean Périer, his wife’s first husband. He took the sign of Pegasus or the Flying Horse and used combined addresses until 1546: ‘Sub scuto Basiliensi, in vico Jacobao, et Sub Pegaso, in vico Bellovacensi’, in French, ‘En la rue sainct Jacques a lescu de Basle’. In addition, he also used the following address: ‘Rue sainct Jehan de Beauvois au Cheval volant’. In the course of 1546, however, he abandoned the ‘Rue Saint-Jacques’ and gave only the Rue Saint-Jean-de-Beauvais address.[4]

Wechel is perhaps best known for his iconic Pegasus device, a device also used by his heir, Andreas Wechel (d. 1581). As we can see above, the device incorporates a caduceus framed by two horns of plenty and surmounted by Pegasus, the flying horse, and supported at the bottom by two hands joined together. His choice is interesting because in the sixteenth century, the figure of Pegasus personified the prestige acquired through the practice of ‘virtu’, thus reflecting the printer’s ambitions while at the same time, his subtly blending of ancient Greek pagan knowledge and Christian morality. The use of Pegasus, a Greek mythological figure, also underlines Wechel’s appreciation of Hellenistic knowledge, which was at the heart of his enterprise. In fact, in the most quoted version of the myth, Pegasus is described as a creature born of Medusa’s blood when Perseus cut off her head, making it a symbol of poetic inspiration.

Wechel not only took over the business of the bookseller Conrad Resch, but also improved his range of titles. Both of them published books by the fifth-century writer Horapollo, which can be confirmed by studying the library of one of Wechel’s most famous customers: François Rabelais (c. 1490-1553?).[5] It is perhaps symbolic that while Rabelais bought an edition of Horapollo from Resch, he chose Wechel to publish his own work.

Renowned for the high quality of his editions, it is, however, interesting to note a gradual evolution in the quality of Wechel’s publications. Far from discrediting his work, this shows that as a printer he did not stop investing and thinking about the quality and coherence of his works, combining the technical difficulties inherent in printing Greek with the profitability of what was still a minority product on the market. Wechel, ‘the Pegasus printer’ established his successful firm in the world of humanist printing. He became one of the first typographers to use Roman, Greek and Hebrew characters, along with Simon de Colines (1480?-1546) and Robert I Estienne (1503?-59). Wechel’s oeuvre can be divided into three main components: texts by classical authors and contemporary humanists in ancient languages (Greek, Latin and Hebrew); works in French (which were in the minority but included important titles such as Rabelais’ Tiers livre and the French editions of Andrea Alciati’s Emblèmes; and finally religious works, which testify to his commitment to the Protestant Reformation and to French and German evangelicals.

Horapollo, Ori Apollinis Niliaci, De sacris notis & sculpturis libri duo. Quibus accessit versio, recèns per Io. Mercerum Vticensem concinnata, & obseruationes non infrugifera (Paris, 1548), i, p. 3.

In the sixteenth century, Paris occupied a special place in the spread of the Hebrew language and the discovery of its texts by Christian intellectuals. This movement had begun with the considerable literary production in Hebrew by the Jews of medieval France. The expulsion of Jews in 1394 ensured that, unlike in Italy or Germany, no Jewish presses were set up in France. However, even before the creation of the Collège Royal, Christian Hebraism had utilised the new invention of the printing press.[6]

This fascination with Hebrew, like the fascination with Greek that followed it, was a response to scientific and religious concerns: to rediscover the ‘Hebraica veritas’ in order to support the teaching of Christianity. The first Christian Hebraists often had access to Jewish editions in Italy and benefited from the support of converted Jews. Among the Parisian booksellers, the Estienne dynasty, but also Gilles de Gourmont (fl. 1499-1540), Martin Le Jeune (d. c. 1584), Guillaume Morel (1505-64) and, of course, Chrestien Wechel, became the main contributors to the French and European market for Greek prints. They contributed greatly to the rediscovery of the Hebrew language. They acquired the necessary typographic material and supplied the works needed for teaching, from alphabets to the great biblical editions, including the indispensable bilingual editions in Latin and Greek.

Perhaps, because of his Basel links, he was sympathetic to the Reformation from an early age.[7] For a time he had employed a printer by the name of Simon du Bois – a dangerous association in this context. Simon du Bois (fl. 1525-34) is famous for printing Geoffroy Tory’s Heures, but he was also responsible for the book Vraye et parfaite oraison, a translation of Luther’s Betbüchlein, with additional texts by Guillaume Farel (1489-1565) and Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (d. 1536), composed by Louis de Berquin (1490-1529), who died at the stake in 1529. In 1535, du Bois was wanted as a heretic in Paris and his name was trumpeted through the streets of the city, along with those of two other printers, Johannes Nicolle (d. 1507?) and Le Balafré. Chrestien Wechel himself had been harassed by the Sorbonne in 1534 for selling Erasmus’ De interdicto esu carnium. His catalogue included many works banned by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne, such as those by Erasmus and the Reformed thinker Philip Melanchton (1497-1560). It also included Rabelais’ Tiers livre, the publication of which forced its author to leave France, and the Latin translation of Plato’s Axiochus, which had led to Etienne Dolet (1509-46) being burnt at the stake just two years before Wechel’s publication.

The latter, however, avoided this disastrous fate and was only fined during his career. His business was very prosperous and, as we have seen, in addition to the house of the Ecu de Bâle, by 1539 he was able to open another shop under the sign of Pegasus. His double address appears in the first edition of the Tiers Livre in 1546, and is visible below in Worth’s copy of a folio he printed in 1548.

Jacques Dubois, Methodus sex librorum Galeni in differentijs & causis morborum & symptomatum in tabellas sex ordine suo coniecta paulò fusiùs ne breuitas obscura lectorem remoretur & fallat. De signis omnibus medicis, hoc est, salubribus, insalubribus, & neutris, commentarius … per Iacobum Syluium … Cum priuilegio (Paris, 1548), title page.

Wechel was one of the few early French printers to publish works on medicine: Galen, De Plenitudine, (1528); Galen, Libri de Crisibus, (1528); Celsus, De Re medica, (1529); and Galen, De Curandi ratione sanguinis missionem, (1529). He also produced works on veterinary medicine such as the Hippiatria (1532) of Laurentius Rusius (1288-1347), and works on natural history, such as Worth’s beautiful octavo edition of De Lapidibus pretiosis (1531) by Marbode.

It is therefore unsurprising that among Wechel’s books in Worth’s collection, at least 7 of the 9 are medical works: the Methodus medicamenta componendi … (Paris, 1541) written by Jacques Dubois (1478-1555), master of the well-known anatomist and doctor Andeas Vesalius (1514-64); a compilation of treatises about pathology which included Galen’s De Plenitudine, along with the De Salubri victus ratione priuatorum of Polybus, the De herbarum uirtutibus by Apuleius Barbarus and the De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morború & sanationum causis by Antonio Benivieni (1443-1502), all printed by Wechel in 1528; De lapidibus pretiosis enchiridion by Marbode, printed in 1531; De animalibus medicae quaestiones et problemata by the second-century writer Cassius Iatrosophista, printed in 1541; De chirurgica institutione libri quinque by Jean Tagault (d. 1545), printed in 1543;  Methodus sex librorum […] i in differentijs & causis morborum & symptomatum’ by Galen, printed in 1548, and finally, De re medica libri octo by Aulus Cornelius Celsus (fl. 1st century AD), printed in 1528-1529.

Aulus Cornelius Celsus, Aurelii Cornelii Celsi De re medica libri octo … Accessit huic thesaurus uerius, quam liber, Scribonii Largi, titulo Compositionū medicamentorum: nunc primum, tineis & blattis, ereptus industria Ioannis Ruellii (Paris, 1528-9), title page.

Celsus’ De re medica remains the most important source of our knowledge of medicine in the Roman empire. It remains the oldest medical document written after the Hippocratic writings, the earliest surviving major medical treatise written in Latin, and the earliest Western history of medicine. It is the only extant work of Roman encyclopaedist and presumed physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus. It was originally part of a larger encyclopaedic work by Celsus covering agriculture, military science, rhetoric, government, law, philosophy and medicine, but only the eight books on medicine survived intact. The text of De re medica was lost sometime during the Middle Ages and rediscovered at the end of the fifteenth century. It was the first medical book to be printed, in Florence in 1478, by the printer Nicolaus Laurentii (fl. 1475-86).

The publication of this work came relatively early in the career of the Pegasus printer. Based on the date of Wechel’s purchase of Resch’s estate in 1526, which marks the official start of his career, De re medica came off the press just three years later. This highlights several important points: not only does it confirm Wechel’s fondness for medical books at the beginning of his career. It is also evidence of a professional skill and knowledge the development of which is difficult to trace today. Where was Wechel trained? Did he learn by observing the workings of Resch’s firm and the technical knowledge that went into being a printer? Finally, this book is also evidence of the influence of the Italian presses in France, and especially in Paris; in fact, the thread that runs through these few lines about the Pegasus printer is really his orientation towards the rest of Europe: towards German authors who attracted his attention and with whom he shared strong intellectual and humanist interests; and to his counterparts in Italy, who offered him entrepreneurial models.

He was undoubtedly influenced by the example of the great Italian printer, Aldus Manutius (1449/50-1515) and, like Manutius, Wechel was also at the centre of a scholarly network of several famous intellectuals, such as Guillaume Budé (1468-1540) and Jacques Toussain (1499?-1547), as well as the doctors Guilielmus Copus (d. 1532?), Jean Ruel (1474-1537), and Johann Guenther (1505-74), all Hellenists who were close to François I (1494-1547), King of France. Wechel was certainly a humanist, a serious intellectual with a solid knowledge of ancient languages, sciences, medicine and mathematics, but he was also and above all an entrepreneur. In common with this important generation of Italian printers, Wechel had to and wanted to stand out and establish his business firmly in the heart of the French print trade. In order to do this, he created an image for his company: a motto, a printer’s device, a recognised and recognisable location, a specialised business, and finally, from time to time, he added ‘Aldine leaves’ to his output, especially to his scientific and medical publications. Wechel understood the power of the Aldine printer’s device as a guarantor of the physical and intellectual quality of the book – his attempt to replicate the Aldine model in Paris shows the breadth of his vision, his understanding of his world and the financial stakes involved.

Lastly, the close links that Wechel maintained with foreign countries since the foundation of his press in the 1520s, particularly through various contacts with German authors, was a gateway to extending its activities throughout Europe. This awareness of European publishing is reflected in the ideas and ideals that he chose to disseminate. While his privileged geographical position in Paris certainly contributed to the prosperity of his firm, his success was due to the fact that the Pegasus printer was a scholar who ‘sharpened his blades’, always thinking of his competitors and the print market. He demonstrated an undeniable mastery of the so-called scientific languages: Latin in particular, but above all Greek and Hebrew, of which he was one of the first ardent promoters. These languages, however, did not enjoy the same economic advantages as Latin, which was at the height of its splendour. French scholars and students were not as well versed in Greek as their European neighbours. Herein lies Chrestien Wechel’s innovation and masterstroke: his specialisation. In particular, as a scholar-printer, he specialised in the field of medicine and in the production of Greek and Hebrew texts. This made him the obvious person for international scholars to contact in Paris, the greatest book city of sixteenth-century France.


Armstrong, Elizabeth, ‘The origins of Chrétien Wechel Re-examined’, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 23, no. 2 (1961), 341-46.

Constantinidou, Natasha, ‘Libri Graeci: Les livres grecs à Paris au XVIe siècle’, Blog de la Société bibliographique de France (22 February 2020).

Evans, Robert John Weston, The Wechel Presses: Humanism and Calvinism in central Europe, 1572-1627, (Oxford, 1975).

Guignard, Jacques, ‘Les Premiers éditeurs de Rabelais’, Texte d’une conférence faite à l’Association des Bibliothécaires français, Paris, le 23 novembre 1953, Bulletin d’informations de l’A.B.F., 13 (1954), 13-29.

Guilleminot-Chrétien, Geneviève, ‘Pierre Ramus et André Wechel: un libraire au service d’un auteur’, in Christine Bénévent, Annie Charon, Isabelle Diu & Magali Vène (eds), Passeurs de textes: imprimeurs et libraires à l’âge de l’humanisme (Paris, 2012), pp 239-53.

Hubert, Elie, ‘Chretien Wechel, Imprimeur à Paris’, Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 29, (1954), 181-97.

Klecker, Elisabeth, ‘Des signes muets aux emblèmes chanteurs : les
Emblemata d’Alciat et l’emblématique‘, Littérature, 145, no. 1 (2007),

Maclean, Ian, ‘L’économie du livre érudit: le cas Wechel (1572-1627)’, in Pierre Aquilon & Henri-Jean Martin (eds), Le livre dans l’Europe de la Renaissance: actes du XXVIIIe Colloque international d’études humanistes de Tours (Paris, 1988), pp 230-39.

Pédeflous, Olivier, ‘Sur la bibliothèque de Rabelais’, Arts et Savoirs, 10 (2018).

Renouard, Philippe, Jeanne Veyrin-Forrer & Birgitte Moreau (eds), Répertoire des imprimeurs parisiens: libraires, fondeurs de caractères et correcteurs d’imprimerie: depuis l’introduction de l’imprimerie à Paris (1470) jusqu’à la fin du seizième siècle … (Paris, 1965).

Schwarzfuchs, Lyse, Le livre hébreu à Paris au XVIe siècle: inventaire chronologique (Paris, 2004).


[1] Renouard, Philippe, Jeanne Veyrin-Forrer & Brigitte Moreau (eds), Répertoire des imprimeurs parisiens: libraires, fondeurs de caractères et correcteurs d’imprimerie: depuis l’introduction de l’imprimerie à Paris (1470) jusqu’à la fin du seizième siècle … (Paris, 1965), p. 435. See also Archives de France, MC/ET/XXXIII/10: ‘Inventaire après décès de Jean Périer, marchand et bourgeois de Paris, demeurant au jeu de paume de Saint-Jean-de-Latran, dressé à la requête de Michel Robillart, sa veuve, tutrice de Charles Périer, son fils, 1525’.

[2] Renouard et al. (eds), Répertoire des imprimeurs parisiens, pp 434-35.

[3] Klecker, Elisabeth, ‘Des signes muets aux emblèmes chanteurs: les
Emblemata d’Alciat et l’emblématique‘, Littérature, 145, no. 1 (2007), 17.

[4] Renouard et al. (eds), Répertoire des imprimeurs parisiens, p. 435.

[5] Pédeflous, Olivier, ‘Sur la bibliothèque de Rabelais’, Arts et Savoirs, 10 (2018), Greek library list of Rabelais.

[6] Schwarzfuchs, Lyse, Le livre hébreu à Paris au XVIe siècle: inventaire chronologique (Paris, 2004), Introduction.

[7] Evans, Robert John Weston, The Wechel Presses: Humanism and Calvinism in central Europe, 1572-1627, (Oxford, 1975), pp 2-6.

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