Orbis Pictus Revised
an interactive exhibition by

Tjebbe van Tijen & Milos Vojtechovsky

1996 website for exhibition in De Waag, Amsterdam, Society for Old and New Media

The exhibition is based on the book Orbis Sensualium Pictus (the world explained in pictures) by Comenius. The first version was published in 1658 in N¸rnberg in a German/Latin edition. Comenius is the Latin name of Jan Amos Komensky?, born in Nivnice near Uhersky? Brod in Moravia 1592, deceased Amsterdam 1670 and buried in Naarden. The Orbis Sensualium Pictus is a playful and visual textbook to learn Latin and other languages. It summarizes the whole world in hundred and fifty pictures (tableaus) with titles (nomenclature) and numbers that point to words that are set in short sentences. Almost two thousand words and notions are explained for children in this compact little book. In the past three centuries more than two hundred editions in twenty six languages, that used the Orbis Sensualium Pictus as a model, have been published. Things, phenomena and notions are shown in the seemingly natural context of landscapes, still lifes, schemes or allegoric images. Most of the tableaus represent concrete and tangible things. The seventeenth century tableaus look like modern computer screens with 'hot spots' that can be clicked with a mouse or be touched to set an event in motion. The exhibition Orbis Pictus Revised joins this seventeenth century 'multi media' book with today's modern technology. The exhibition has three parts:

Orbis Pictus Revised installation , pilot version in 1995 Multimediale, Karlsruhe/ZKM

The installation at the opening exhibition of The Society of Old and New Media in the Theatrum Anatomicum of the Waag building, Nieuwmarkt Amsterdam, 1996.

Associative assemblages A chain of fifty small objects that are in an associative way linked to fifty of the hundred and fifty tableaus of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus by Comenius. On a visual level the tableaus are interpreted as in poetry, pointing to other possible levels of language and classification. Each of the objects has a label with the original title of the tableau (nomenclature) in three languages (Latin, Dutch and English).

Assemblages of Milos Vojtechovsky in Karslruhe, click image to see some more examples in detail

Looking & Pointing An interactive computer installation on the basis of the original edition of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus that shows how the way in which the world is shown in pictures and expressed in words changes over time, from the seventeenth century till now. Also earlier books, from the seventeenth and sixteenth century, that were a source inspiration for Comenius, are shown. Twenty books, all original editions, coming from five different European libraries can be looked at and compared in detail in digital form. The searching system is entirely based on images and spoken word and its function is to facilitate the comparison of the different books, its plates and details.

Touch screen: Choices can be made by pointing and touching of parts of the pictures on the bottom screen (touch screen). The installation speaks three languages that can be chosen by touching the colored circles at the bottom of the screen: Latin (blue), Dutch (green), English (red).

Left example of two (21 inch high resolution) screens showing pictures in very high resolution at 'tableau-level'. Right an example of navigating through time on a particular detail of a tableau to see the changes of the depiction of breast feeding from the 17th tot the 20th century; the detail showed is from the 18th century.

Navigation switches: At the left and right of this touch screen there are metal plates that react to a short and light touch of the hand, by touching these switches you can move back and forward through time. In the same way the switches at the top and bottom of the screen let you go through different levels of information: bookshelf, book, chapters, subchapters, tableaus and details. Little lights in the switches indicate which navigation options are available. You can use these switches only when they are lighted.

Navigation screen: On the top navigation screen you can always see the available books in chronological order by year of publishing. On this screen you can see where you are: in which century, book, chapter, subchapter, page, tableau or detail.

Left side shows two screens with the 17th century books section on the bottom screen and a 'cosmogram' depicting the active century. Right picture shows a diagramatic circle in which all the chapters are summarized in pictures, starting with God and the subsequently creation of the earth and ending with the Last Judgment. The monkey ticks with his stick the knowledge available. Touching a segment of the circle will bring the user to the next level of subchapters where pictograms are depicted with modern pictograms.

Left two screens with a 20th century book in the tradition of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus, The Duden picture dictionary and a modern chapter division starting with the Atom and ending with the Animal World, mainly in the Zoo. Right side shows subsections (on tableau level) of the chapter 'Man and his social environment'.

Touching & Feeling: An interactive computer installation with objects that can be placed at three different sensors and thus will give you definitions for children of beings, things and phenomena from the seventeenth century compared with twentieth century definitions. There are three languages also here indicated by small colored circles on the table surface: Latin (blue), Dutch (green), English (red). In the spirit of Comenius, once a definition starts, the speaking can not be interrupted. A next choice will only be given after the preceding definition has finished speaking. All the pictures that are simultaneously shown are from the 1658 edition of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus as well as the 17th century definitions. The twentieth century definitions come from present children dictionaries. You will find the titles find overleaf in the 'sources'.



Public at the Multimediale in Karlsruhe using the table interface

For definitions click either of the three images

Sources Original books from the collections of: Stadtbibliothek N¸rnberg (a); Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenb¸ttel (b); Universiteits Bibliotheek Amsterdam (c); Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam (d); Pedagogick· Knihovna J.A. Komenskho, Prague (e) and assistance of Bibliographisches Institut Brockhaus, Mannheim (Duden) (f). The letter between () in the following list point to the library where the originals have been photographed.

Examples of some of the libraries were the original books have been photographed:From top left to bottom right, Stadtbibliothek Nuremberg, Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbuetel, Biblioteca  Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam.

Books used for the touch screen installation: from left to right precursors of the Orbis Pictus that start to depict the real world in a realistic way: -De Re metallica, Georg Agricola, 1551 (c); -Historiae animalium, De quadrupedibus viviparis, Conrad Gesner, 1551 (c); -Eygentliche Beschreibung aller Stände auff Erden.., Jost Ammand/Hans Sachs, 1568 (b); -Vivae imagines partium corporis humanis, Andreas Vesalius, 1579 (c); -Commentarii in VI. libros Pedacii. Dioscoridis Anarzabei de Medica materia autore recogniti ..., Petrus Andreas Matthiolus, 1583 (c); Liber Genesis, Chrispijn van de Passe Sr. (Senior), 1616 (c); De Macrocosmi Historia in duos tractatus divisa, Robert Fludd, 1617 (d). Original edition of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus, 1658 published in N¸rnberg in two editions: -bound with other titles in one volume in 1667 (a), original edition bound anew in the 19th century (b). Successors of the Orbis Pictus: Orbis sensualium picti, an edition from 1720 (in two volumes whereby the first volume runs parallel with the original 1658 edition) (b); Des Elementarbuches für die Jugend und für ihre Lehrer und Freunde in gesittenen Ständen, Johann Basedow, 1770 (b), a book that follows the tableau method of Comenius partly, the accompanying text is in separate books; Neuer Orbis Pictus für die Jugend, Jacob Gailer, 1832 (a); Orbis Pictus, Jan Karlik, 1883 (c), a coloured edition that closely follows the Orbis Pictus from two centuries before with the exception of the tableau of the internal organs of man that have been left out maybe because of 'Victorian prudence'; Novy Orbis Pictus, F. Pokorny/C. Palocaj, 1937 (e), the most extensive Orbis Pictus successor with 398 tableaus; Oxford-Duden Bildwörterbuch, Dieter Solf/John Pheby/Jochen Schmidt, 1979 (f). The pictograms used for the subchapters are mostly based on the 'isotype' collection of Otto Neurath and Gerd Arntz (1930-1945). The chapter circles have been specially designed for this installation, the idea dates back to title page designs by Robert Fludd from the beginning of the seventeenth century (a man Comenius admired).

Sources for the modern definitions for children for the 'object table': Orbis sensualium pictus (Comenius), 1658; Webster's II-Riverside children's dictionary, (Noah Webster), 1984; The Oxford illustrated junior dictionary, Rosemary Sansome/Dee Reid, 1993; Van Dale junior-woordenboek Nederlands, Monique Huijgen/Marja Verburg, 1994; Van Dale basiswoordenboek van de Nederlandse taal, idem, 1994.


Assemblages: Milos Vojtechovsky assisted by Charlie Citroen.

Production: Imaginary Museum projects, Amsterdam, Society for Old and New Media, Amsterdam

Arrangement De Waag: Josef Hey light design, Rafaël Panizo-Outmans technique.

Production of The Orbis Pictus Revised in 1995 in Amsterdam

Realisation interactive installations: Rolf Pixley (Anomalous Research) programming and hardware integration; Marijke Griffioen & Bart Haensel graphic design; Frank Hoogveld & Gerd-Jan Leusink furniture building and design; Pieter Boersma photography of the original books; Fred Gales & Robbert Bosch sound-production and recording; Professor J. Heesakkers voice and advices Neo-Latin; Gill Friedman voice English; Jannette Duke voice German version; Birgette Odette voice Dutch; Bas Berck & Edith van Berkel computer-graphics production; Frans van Erkel, Fred Gales & Curt Adalbert sound production; Bas Raijmakers, Ben Perasovi, Mazdak Wahedi, Cok Zouteriks production- assistance; Fachhochschule Karlsruhe Abt. Feinmechanik Professor Onno Onnen, Katja Hamsch & Ralf Herzog advice passive transponders technology 'object table'; Bossinade Lightworks, Velsen capacitive switches touch screen; Grosse Elektrotechnik, Leonberg passive transponders; Kodak Nederland BV, Odijk Photo-CD.

Financing/Subsidies: Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst and the Ministery of Education and Science. Dutch (third version 1996) commissioned by The Society for Old and New Media; Soros Centre for Contemporary Art-Prague (second version 1995); Medienmuseum Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (first and second version 1994-1995); Amsterdams Historisch Museum/Ministerie WVC feasibility study.

Special thanks to: Carry van Lakerveld and Coby Reitsma as first commissioners in 1991, Amsterdams Historisch Museum/WVC and Erik Gastkemper Amsterdams Historisch Museum; Jan Van Breenen Microformat Systems, Lisse, micro filming; Christoph Bläsi, Mannheim Duden; Willem Velthoven Mediamatic, advice; Jeffrey Shaw ZKM/Bildmedien Karlsruhe, advice; Ralf Pfeiffer Medienlab/ZKM, Karslruhe); Frau Beare Stadtbibliothek N¸rnberg; Universiteits Bibliotheek Amsterdam especially Kees Gnirrep, Roelof Jansma, Marja Keijzer, Bram Schuitvlot, Peter Verveen; Caroline Nevejan, Liesbeth Jansen De Waag; Sita Somers, Mira & Tamara Vojtechovsky, Mira Oklobdzija and Lena van Tijen.