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Orbis Sensualium Pictus

NOTES: An Invitation to Wisdom & Schooling.
Ayers Bagley, University of Minnesota.

The standard guide to the many editions and printings of Orbis is: Kurt Pilz, Die Ausgaben des Orbis Sensualium Pictus (Nuremberg, 1967). Pilz critically surveys the related literature, summarizing what is known about the history of the text, and provides fully annotated bibliographic entries. Craftsmen who fashioned the illustrations are identified, their work is described and evaluated; iconic analysis, however, is not within the intended scope of the work.

1. The assertion that "Comenius [i.e., Orbis?] has never figured in an investigation of images" (Alpers, 1983, p. 94) is not entirely accurate. In a contribution to the history of textbooks, Robert Alt (1970) selectively examined the illustrations of Orbis and reviewed antecedents. Attention was centered on depictions of mechanical and scientific subjects. Toischer (1913), in a negative assessment of Comenius' innovativeness, provided a fuller review of illustrated texts preceding Orbis.

2. Wolfgang Christoph Dessler prepared a Part Two for Orbis, which was published in Nuremberg by Martin Endter in 1719. Consisting of 150 lessons on occupations, this volume was usually bound together with eighteenth century revisions of the original Orbis text, which became Part One in various continental editions. See: Pilz (1967), 66, 171-173.

3. A proof of Orbis appeared in 1653. Printed in Saros-Patak, the text was in Latin. The "Invitation" from this printing can be seen reproduced in Bakos (1970), p. 9S. Pilz (1967), pp. 72-75, also notes the Latin proof discovered by Turnbull. The first true edition of Orbis was German/Latin (1658), according to Pilz; the second, Hoole's English/Latin (1659). Although Alpers (1983), p. 96, states that the first edition was Polish/Latin, no documentation is cited. The first edition to include Polish also included Latin, French and German, which, according to Pilz (1967), p. 107, appeared in 1667. Of four-language editions and printings, fifty have been identified; of five, five; of six, two; and one ambitious plan, never realized, projected a ten-language edition. See: Pilz (1967, p. 70 and following.

4. "... our little Encyclopadia ..." [sic]. Orbis (1659) at A5v. With regard to symbolism, personification, allegory, see especially lesson XCIX on the arts of speech, and lessons CIX through CXVII on moral philosophy and the virtues.

5. Robert Druce (1985) notes that sections one and ten in Martin Booth's poem, "Orbis Pictus," (1970) characterize the Invitatio Master's right foot as a "cloven hoof." He observes that Booth based his interpretation on a version of the Invitatio cut by Sturm in a technically deficient imitation of the composition Sporl prepared for the 1666 Nuremberg edition of Orbis. Sturm's clumsy cuts sometimes fail both in proportion and contour lines. Inept craftsmanship, like worn out blocks, may degrade images in curious ways, perchance suggesting forms entirely unintended. Druce comments on the ironic and subverting interpretations that may result. Reproductions of the following versions of the Invitatio are among the illustrations of Druce's article: Spörl, 1679; Sturm, n.d.; anon. (London 1777); anon. (New York, 1910). Creutzberger's original version (1658) is not included.

6. In this respect, the Boy and Master differ from other human figures in Orbis, whose apparel, action, and situation, singly or in combination, indicate role or purpose

7. The apparel approximates historical patterns. See: Boucher (1967), Chapter 8, "The Sixteenth Century" and Chapter 9, "The Seventeenth Century"; also, Durantini (1983), illustrations throughout.

8. Courtesy books of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries call for boys to remove their hats in deference to elders. For Comenius on manners, see: Keatinge (1967), pp. 80-81, 263.

9. Pillaging soldiers carry off the child Simplicissimus, for example, in Hans Jakob Grimmelshausens' Simplicus Simplicissimus (1669), the most important German Bildungsroman of the seventeenth century.

10. Note the illustrations in Alt (1960), Diehl (1939), Durantini (1983), Reicke (1901), Schreiber-Heitz (1908).    Interiors are the rule for seventeenth century Dutch works depicting school teachers with students.

11. Reproduced in Diehl (1939) and Reicke (1901).

12. Reproduced in Schreiber-Heitz (1908).

13. Reproduced in Reicke (1901) and Schreiber-Heitz (1908). See also the discussion of tree imagery in didactic manuscripts (Esmeijer, 1973). Note, too, Comenius: "An hereditary disease, sprung from our first parents, pervades all classes, so that, shut out from the tree of life, we direct our desires inordinately towards the tree of knowledge, and our schools also ... have hitherto pursued nothing but intellectual progress." See: Keatinge (1967), p. 78.

14. Schreiber-Heitz (1908).\

15. See Lesson XXXVII, "The Seven Ages of Man." Comenius does not consistently divide the ages of life. In the "Pampaedia" (Cremin, 1967), p. 107, for example, Comenius counts life in the womb as the first age, infancy the second, and childhood the third, rather than the second, as it is in Orbis. In The Great Didactic, the pattern is based on curricular considerations. Four ages, each of six years duration are described: infancy, childhood, boyhood, and youth. See: Keatinge (1967), p. 256-257. Also see: Chew (1962), Chapter 6, "The Path of Life."

16. Characterizations of the ages of life appear in medieval encyclopedias as well as in early modern dictionaries and encyclopedias.

17. See, for example, "The Pampaedia" (Cremin, 1967), p. 117; also, The Great Didactic, in: Keatinge (1967), pp. 66-68, 266.

18. For ancient Greek vase paintings of Achilles' parents presenting him to Cheiron, see: Beck (1975), plts. 1-3.

19. For examples of Jesus presented to a teacher, see: Bagley (1985).

20. Presentation or introduction scenes were more common to illustrations of episodes in the lives of celebrated figures than in genre pieces depicting common folks. In numerous works, The Virgin Mary is presented by her parents to the priestly teachers of the Temple school. St. Monica introduces her son, who is to become St. Augustine, to the school master in a section of Benozo Gozzoli's fresco (c. 1463-67) painted for the church of St. Agostino in San Gimignano. But only anonymous women accompany equally anonymous children in the seventeenth century classrooms painted by Jan Steen (attrib.) and Peter de Hooch (attrib.), or in Abraham de Bosse's print of a Girl's School (c. 1660) or in the print of a school interior (1526) by Dierick J. Vellert also Velaert].

21. Eliade (1971), p. 113. See also: Eliade (1975), pp. xii-xiii, 2-3. See also: Turner (1978), pp. 2-3.

22. Eliade (1971), p. 114.

23. Ibid., p. 125.

24. Ong (1959).

25. Ibid., p. 464.

26. Ibid., p. 464. Comenius first issued the Janua Linguarum Reserata Aurea in 1633 from Leipzig and Leta. Preceding Comenius, John Anchoran adapted a manuscript of the text for publication in England (London, 1631) with the title Porta Linguarum Trilinguis Reserata, which was translated as The Gate of Tongues Unlocked. See: Comenius, Porta ... (1970).

The imagery of "gate," especially as in "city gate," appealed more to Comenius than the imagery of "door" when he thought about the ideal of universal education in connection with Pansophia. He explains why in A Reformation of Schooles (1642): "It was enough that we called our entrance into the Latine tongue a Dore, in this matter [i.e., Pansophia and universal education] the word Gate seemes to drive more neerely at our intentions. For one by one enters in at a Dore, but whole troupes through a Gate. A Dore is shut as every one is entred in: but Gates in peaceable Cities, stand always open. And so the study of the Latine tongue, which we first endeavoured to open, is peculiar unto some few; but the desire of Wisdome is common unto all mankind." (Comenius, 1969, pp. 59-60)

27. Ong (1963), p. 446.

28. Katzenellenbogen (1966), pp. 39-43; Klibansky (1966), pp. 13-14.

29. Regarding Orbis following the plan of the Janua, Comenius is explicit: "The pictures ... are ... in that very order ... in which they are described in the Janua ..." Orbis at A3v-A4r. Also see: Maréchal (1972), p. 16, note 18.

Comenius discusses his principles of teaching method and related principles for curriculum organization in Chapter XVI of The Great Didactic. See: Keatinge (1967, esp. pp. 112-141).

For an analysis of the subject matter organization of Orbis, see: Capková (1970), esp. pp. 13-14. For a corresponding analysis of the organization of the Janua, see: Cervenka (1971), esp. pp. 95-101.

30. The teacher has worn various hats. In the Saros-Patak proof of 1653, the hat is broad-brimmed. See: Bakos (1970), p. 95. An approximation of that hat hangs on the wall of the Taylor's shop (lesson LXII, London editions). Beside that hat is another, a cold-weather variety with fur trim, which is the type worn in the Nuremberg edition (1658). But the hat worn in the Invitation and Close of the London editions has its broad brim turned up. For this configuration, see the figures of St. James in: V. and H. Hell (1966), plts. 18, 167, 170; also, Hohler (1957).

The illustrator of the first Nuremberg edition of Orbis could have known the St. James hat, Santiago type, from sculptures on two of Nuremberg's most famous churches, St. Sebald and St. Lawrence. He chose, instead, to give the Master a brimless, fur trimmed variety

31. Hell (1966); also, Kendrick (1960); also, Sumption (1975).

32. The text runs: "This life is a way, or a place divided into two ways, like Pythagoras's letter Y; broad ... on the left-hand tract, narrow ... on the right; that belongs to Vice ... this to Virtue." Comenius does not mention the stem of the Y. Lydgate, as Chew (1962) observes, associates the stem with the "irresponsible years of childhood" (p. 177) which ends at the choice of ways upon reaching youth, which is to say, the age of discretion.

33. Hell (1966), p. 28. "Pilgrim" is the main character in The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1623), Comenius' excursion into allegorical fiction. Pilgrim's Journey is through a maze that contrasts starkly with the orderly itinerary presented by the Master to the boy in Orbis.

Comenius applied the metaphor of maze and labyrinth to the school curricula he knew. In his treatise, A Reformation of Schooles (London, 1642), he observes that "the study of learning is such an intricate, and confounding labyrinth, that few can find their way out of it ..." He condemns texts and teaching that are characterized by "circumlocutions, and windings, and turnings of expressions, which fetch out not the kernell, but onely make a few assayes upon the shell." His own aim is "to bring all things both great, and small, which are to be learned, into such a perspicuous order, that students may have them before their face, as plaine as their owne fingers ..." See: Comenius (1969), p. 12.

Editions of The Labyrinth in Czech and in German are listed in Acta Comeniana vol. 3 (1973), p. 490. For an English translation of excerpts from The Labyrinth, see: Cremin (1967), pp. 35-64. For an analysis, see: Lehar (1979). The work has been compared to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. See: Capek (1973), p. 341.

The life of Simplicissimus (see note 9, above) can be read as a pilgrimage tale. For the episode in which Simplicissimus visits a forest hermit, actually Simplicissimus' father, an illustration shows the boy standing before the old man, who sits reading. The hut behind them resembles a Christian shrine or chapel. For a reproduction of the engraving, see: Reicke (1901), p. 77.

For a theoretical discussion interrelating pilgrimage and rites of passage, see Turner (1978), Chapter One "Pilgrimage as a Liminoid Phenomenon."

34. Orbis (London, 1659), at A4r and v.

35. Orbis (London, 1659), at A5r.

36. Orbis (London, 1659), at A4v.

37. Pilz (1967), pp. 101-103 and after. See index.

38. On Comenius and the idea of harmony, generally, see: Capek (1970), pp. 43-44.

39. Garton (1972), pp. 70-71.

40. Keatinge (1967), pp. 256-257.

41. Lesson CXXIII, "The inward parts of a City," Orbis (1659), p. 250.

42. On relations of Orbis to Comenius' other texts, see: Capkova (1970), pp. 6-8.

43. See: Comenius, Porta . . .  (1970), p. 128, para. 623.

44. Orbis (1659), Lesson XCVII, p. 199.

45. See note 16, above.

46. Orbis (1659), at A3v.

47. Ong (1958).

48. Ong (1972), p. 67.

49. In his A Reformation of Schooles (1642), Comenius names some of those who influenced his thinking, e.g., "Lord Verulam [i.e., Francis Bacon] ... his excellent Novum Organum ..." (Comenius, 1969, p. 28) Others to whom he says "I gave my mind" are also listed (pp. 46-47). The name of his teacher, the encyclopedist Alsted, is not included, although passing reference to him appears on page 74.

50. It was a limited Pansophism, as reported in A Reformation of Schooles (1642), "Let no man be offended with the word Pansophy; wee know that there is but one truly Pansopos, the onely wise God ... That which we professe, is humane Pansophy, or the knowledge of such things as God will have us to know, together with a discreet ignorance of such things, as our great Master hath concealed from us." (Comenius, 1969, p. 52) It was selective: "... we have not undertaken to write a perfect Pansophy, but onely the Gate thereof ... onely the hinges and bases of all things." (p. 53) It might be called a Christian Pansophy, Comenius agreed, but did not wish to limit its application to Christians, preferring that it be open to all in the hope that "it may be a means of enlightening, and convincing the minds of unbeleevers ..." See: "A Dilucidation Answering Certaine Objections ..." (1642), which is bound together with A Reformation of Schooles (Comenius, 1969, pp. 77-78.


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