Opera didactica omnia, 1657

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Opera didactica omnia, 1657
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Image 1. Title page of Comenius, Opera didactica omniaAmsterdam, 1657.  An inscription records that it was designed by Crispijn de Passe and engraved by his pupil David Loggan. Source: Mannheim: Thesaurus eruditionis.

Description.  Comenius is depicted at work, seated at a table. A floor tile records his date of birth, 28 March 1592: in the year of publication, he is 65 years of age, an old man.  His right hand rests on a folio volume which he is in the processes of writing: the subtitle adds that he has been at work on his didactic writings for thirty years.  His left hand gestures to a doorway opening into an austere church interior, in which a minister is preaching to a congregation: the centrepiece of the Moravian's pedagogical enterprise is evidently religious, and his religion approximates the Dutch Reformed Church (or so the image implies: Comenius was a Senior of the Moravian Unity of Brethren, and was savagely attacked by leading Dutch theologians in subsequent years). On the table, two books (in the small formats of most of Comenius's textbooks), an ink stand, and a globe, perhaps alluding to the encyclopaedic nature of his enterprise.  Overhead on the ceiling, the sun and moon travel along the zodiac against the backdrop of the fixed stars, circling the globe on the table and marking out years, months, and days.  The passage of hours is also suggested by the sundial depicted on the upper left: time moves on ineluctably, and Comenius's pedagogy is dedicated to making learning as quick and easy as possible.  

Behind him, the wall surrounding the doorway is adorned with painted panels.  The panel above the door depicts ships anchored off the shore of a pristine world, apparently untouched by human habitation (a metaphor of discovery in both Stradanus and Bacon, the latter one of the principal influences on Comenius). To the right of the doorway, practical arts are depicted which lift humankind above the state of nature: agriculture and gardening, printing, and housebuilding.  To the left, the arts of painting and sculpture are depicted below, while the upper panel may allude to astronomy and (by extension) the mathematical sciences.  This emphasis on the mechanical arts is highly unusual for a contemporary treatise on general education: the advancement of learning of a very practical kind is evidently a second objective of these pedagogical writings. All of these arts are in fact depicted in the Orbis sensualium pictus which Comenius composed in Sárospatak a few years earlier and which would be printed in Nuremberg for the first time the following year. 

Contents. This huge book, consisting of dozens of separate works printed in over 2000 folio columns, offers (according to its full title) 'all the didactic works of Comenius, written on various occasions and published in different places, now not merely collected in one and the same place but also mechanically assembled into a single system'.  This emphasis on mechanism both complements the imagery of the title page and suggests the rigorously 'methodical' nature of Comenian pedagogy.

High resolution images of the entire work together with text in HTML can be found on the Thesaurus eruditionis in Mannheim. 

Credit: Howard Hotson (February 2017)