"The whole world is a school for mankind for all men, about all
things, in all ways"(1)
In 1658 the Orbis Sensualium Pictus was published in Nuremberg. This illustrated Latin text book, provided with parallel translations in other languages, was at the same time a summation of man's knowledge and experience in the mid 17th century. Within 150 pictures, the entire world is shown in tangible and intangible phenomena. Through the use of numbers, different parts of the illustrations are linked to a text, phrased in short sentences. These sentences explore the different parts of the 'tableau' and clarify the natural cohesion of its parts. This publication is part of an earlier educational method developed by Comenius (2). The book was quickly a resounding success and has been published, over two centuries, in numerous editions, always using two, sometimes three languages as its basis. The languages of the different translations in chronological order of publication are: German, French, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Czech, Hebrew, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish and Lithuanian (3). The first illustrations were produced by using woodcuts, later copper and steel engravings.
Comenius considered education as an ongoing process that was to be continued throughout one's lifetime - from childhood until old age. For him the world itself was a grand school of learning. His philosophy forms a bridge between antique humanism and enlightenment. His wish was to use his universal philosophy (pansophy) to reform the entire human world: If the scene of the world is to be changed, it is essential that all man's education should be changed, and that from the very foundations..
A few of Comenius' basic educational principles are: From nearby to distant. From well known to unknown. From simple to complex. From tangible and concrete to abstract and generalised. Not forced, but playful learning .
In language education: From mother tongue to foreign language. From things
to ideas and words. (We learn things and notions before words). Understanding
the cohesive unity of things on different
levels and thus the world as a whole. Things are the basis for language, and thus language is the way in which to encompass the world. Children can easily memorise scriptual and secular stories from pictures. (see Appendix I)
Woman instructing a child with the help of a picture book. Drawing by the Dutch engraver Jacques de Gheyn (1565-1629), a contemporary of Comenius. Svetlana Alpers uses this picture in her book "The Art of Describing, Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century" (1983) with the following comment: "The idea that pictures are a form of language and hence a way to acquire knowledge of the world seems to be the assumption of the drawing by De Gheyn (...). The woman and the child who lean over a book of pictures could be promoting Comenius's Orbis Pictus."
In the world of Comenius, all reality is nothing more than a constantly varying realisation of a single divine, overall plan. Such a world can be thus understood through a uniform and methodical education. Not a fragmentary, but an omniscient knowledge.
Comenius was one of the first to use, on the basis of a didactic system, images in school textbooks. The amount of 150 illustrations of the Orbis Pictus was considered to be exceptionally large for the time. It took two years to create and produce the woodcuts. The idea, on itself, of using pictures as an educational aid was not new. In the middle ages before book printing began, murals and paintings in churches were considered as books for the layman. In the beginning of the 16th century, the German schoolmaster Johan Buchstab speaks of 'painted letters', that helped his illiterate mother in studying the holy word. With the arrival of block print, one sees the mass distribution of 'poor man's bibles', calenders and allegoric prints. In the 16th century, the growth of new empirical sciences, the development of book printing, and the need for better distribution of knowledge, led to the need of supplementing the text with images. In time the character of these illustrations changes from the allegorical to the more realistic.
Books dealing with architecture, mining, healing arts, birds, fish, plants
and animals began to appear. Comenius could base his ideas on predecessors
such as Andreas Vesalius (1543: anatomy), Gregorius Agricola (1556: mining),
Jacob Besson (1578: instruments and machines) or Conrad Gessner (1586: animals).
Other popular books of the time dealing with estate and trade by such authors
as Jost Amman and Hans Sachs (1568), also were sources of inspiration for
the Orbis Pictus (4). Further inspiration
for Comenius can be found in the utopian writings of Tommaso Campanella,
in his La Citta del Sole/The city of the sun (1602), and Johan Valentin
Andrea's Reipublicae Christianopolitanae Descriptio (1619) (5).
These books contain descriptions of cities where one would find paintings
which relate the world and heavens as well as all of the world's knowledge.
In Campanella's The City of the Sun one finds a circular temple of the sun
adorned with images of the stars, surrounded, in concentric circles, by
seven walls - six of which are painted with representations of the whole
of creation and of man and his undertakings. The children of the city are
instructed by the sun-priests, who teach them by leading them along the
walls of the city to see these murals: "On the outer wall (of the first
circuit) there is a map of the entire world with charts for each country
setting forth their rites, customs and laws; and the alphabet of each is
inscribed above the native one." There follows a detailed description
of each instructive wall. This way of teaching is summarized by Campanella:
"without effort, merely while playing, their children come to know
all the sciences pictorially before they are ten years old" (6).
Further influences can be found in Robert Fludd's encyclopedic work History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm (1617 - 1626) with it's imaginative description of the cosmic harmony, and in Francis Bacon's utopian story of New Atlantis (1627) (7).
Innovative in the Orbis Pictus is the didactic method whereby word and image are presented in a contextual way, as Comenius explains: "Now there is nothing in the understanding which was not before in the sense. (8) It is a little book, as you see, of no great bulk, yet a brief of the whole world, and a whole language: full of Pictures, Nomenclatures, and Descriptions of things."(8) Words are presented as parts of still lifes and landscapes (tableaus). Each tableau has a title (nomenclatura) and the words on the accompagning page are corresponding with numbers in the tableau. Each word is set in a short phrase. It is a system whereby singular things are shown in their 'natural' context. Most of the tableaus are concrete, some schematic and only a few allegoric (see Appendix II for a list). This tableau system with its landscapes and still lifes gives the opportunity to order and unify in one place, according to classes and groups, that what in reality is seperated in time and space. It shows the singular in relation to the whole. This approach is distinctive from the 'lexica system' whereby the, arbitrary, alphabetical order is the primary ordering principle and an incoherent mass of singular pieces makes it difficult to get a picture of the world as a whole.(9)
The learning book Orbis Pictus with its 150 tableaus and almost 2000 numbered items, describing the whole world and its phenomena in a consize way, had many successors (10). The same basic concept can be found in picture books published different times and places, some with the same wide scope, others with a more limited subject. There are also predecessors as mentioned before that laid the basis for the Orbis Pictus (11). A selection of these pictorial books form the basis for a part of the project Orbis Pictus Revised (interactive installation with touch screen: looking and pointing).
Some of the visual inspiration sources and predecessors are:
1543 Andreas Vesalius: Anatomia 1561 Georgius Agricola: De re metallica 1568 Jost Amman and Hans Sachs: Stndenbuch 1582 Jacob Besson: Theatrum instrumentorum et machinarum 1587 Conrad Gesner: Allgemeines Thier Buch 1657 Johannes Amos Comenius: Vestibuli linguarum auctarium
1658 : Johannes Amos Comenius: Orbis Sensualium Pictus
Some of the successors are:
1713 Johan Georg Seybold: Teutsch-Lateinisches Woerter-Buechlein; 1720 Johannes Amos Comenius: Orbis Sensualium Pictus (with renewed illustrations); 1768 J.B. Basedow/Daniel Chodowiecki: Elementarwerk; 1796 Johann Georg Lederer: Der kleine Lateiner ...; 1835 J.E. Gailer: Neuer Orbis Pictus fuer die Jugend (renewed edition); 1852 Karl Amerling: Orbis Pictus (renewed edition); 1883 Jan Karl!k: Orbis Sensualium Pictus (renewed edition); 1937 F. Pokorny/C. Palocaj: Neue Orbis Pictus/Novy Orbis Pictus (renewed edition); 1978 E.C. Parnwell/Attar Singh: Oxford picture dictionary; 1979 Dieter Solf/John Pheby: Oxford-Duden pictorial German-English dictionary.
How to use & navigate the installation:
Looking and pointing: A touch screen (mounted in a console). A large monitor stands at some distance from it. A sound reproduction system (acoustical dome) is suspended overhead. On both screens icons are shown, which are related to the pictorial material of the Orbis Pictus, some of its predecessors and successors form the 16th. to the 20th. century. Thus, the visitor can make choices by touching certain areas of the small screen. The visitor is guided through this system at 5 levels, from abstract to concrete: cosmograms, divisions of knowledge, pictograms, tableaus and details of tableaus (singular beings, things, phenomena) (see Appendix IV). Choices are made by touching the screen. Except for the numbers in the tableaus there is no text on the screen. Touching parts of the screen will trigger spoken language (words or short phrases) in the language one chooses (Latin, Czech, German, English or Dutch). Navigation through the system is aided by three icon based menu bars at the borders of the touch-screen: language, level, time. The imagery used from the 16th. to the 20th. century is all in black and white (in some cases with shades of grey). A '21th. century' image level with a very brief moving image sequence in color ('video words') is presented when one chooses to move through time beyond the 20th. century. If certain functions or items have changed in the course of history, this will be visualized by a graphical metamorphosis from the old into the new, as for instance the metamorphosis of a horse into a car (see Appendix V).
Speaking and listening: On a console lays a telephone horn (without the dialling part). In front of it stands a large monitor. Sound is reproduced from an acoustical dome suspended overhead. When the visitor takes up the telephone and speaks (e.g. 'hello') the introductory tableau picture of the Orbis Pictus with teacher and pupil appears on the screen of the monitor. The teacher presents the available languages (Czech, Dutch, English, German, Latin). The visitor can choose two languages (her own and a 'foreign' language). Then a sequence starts, inspired by the 'playful alphabet' at the beginning of the Orbis Pictus, consisting of pictures relating to onomatopoeic (imitative) sounds (see Appendix VI) The sequence starts with 26 images symbolizing different sounds related to one of the 26 letters of the alphabet. The visitor is invited to produce these sounds (or letters) by speaking into the telephone horn. A computerized voice recognizing system is attached to this. Each time a sound or letter is recognized one of the relating 26 pictures on the screen disappears and is replaced by the corresponding letter of the alphabet. This continues till all letters have been recognized. When all the 26 pictures thus have been altered, the screen changes, and only those letters appear which correspond with the initial letters of the titles of the 150 tableaus of the Orbis Pictus (in the chosen 'own' language). The visitor is asked to choose one of these letters. As a result picture details of the corresponding tableaus (with the selected initial letter) are shown on the screen. Each of the pictures has a number. Choosing a number brings the visitor to the respective tableau with its numbered items. One can then ask for the words belonging to the numbered items. The words will be spoken by the system in the two chosen languages. By clearly speaking a singular letter (if there are tableau titles beginning with that letter) one can go back to the stage where a choice can be made again from series of picture elements from tableaus with that particular letter are offered.
Touching and feeling: The scene is formed by a circular table with a cut-away section that allows one person to stand in it, with a large monitor in front and an acoustical dome for sound reproduction overhead. On the table a collection of a 150 different toys, playthings and other arty/ crafty objects is spread out. All these objects, in one way or another, represent real things. They are all doubles or copies of the same objects that form also a part of the assemblages. All these objects are hand size and their difference in material outlook and colour is covered by gray paint. Each of these objects is related to a tableau picture of the Orbis Pictus. They can be taken at will and moved in the different sensing areas above the table (see Appendix VII). First a relating detail of one of the 150 tableaus of the Orbis Pictus is shown and the word for the object is spoken by the system. Next the picture zooms out to the whole tableau and the word is repeated, now as part of the short contextual sentences which accompagny each Orbis Pictus tableau. There are 5 different sensing areas which are marked by concentrated bundles of light, each of them belonging to one of the languages of the system (Czech, Dutch, English, German, Latin). Choosing a different sensing area results in a change of language. This part of the installation can also be used by blind people.