The book - Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart

 The main idea and heart of the ORBIS PICTUS interactive exhibition is the work Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart by Comenius, which is a first-rate artistic vision with timeless value. Labeled by František Palacký as the best work of older Czech literature, it was written in December 1623 in Brandýs nad Orlicí and has much to say even today.

In 2005 the book Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart was published again in Czech, this time with wonderful illustrations by Rut Kohn; the work was edited and graphically arranged by Jiří Voves. The book was published in French, on the occasion of the project’s opening in Paris in 2006 and in Italian version for the opening in Florence in 2007. The project will always be presented in the language of the given country and the book Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart will be published in the official language of the host country. The English version of the book was published with illustrations of Petr Nikl, on the occasion of the project’s opening in Canada in Vancouver in 2008.

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John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) is undoubtedly the most famous Czech humanist in the world. A theologian by profession and a bishop of the Unity of Brethren – by number a small but influential Czech Protestant church – he was forced to leave his homeland in 1628 because the Austrian Habsburgs, who ruled the Czech lands, did not tolerate non-Catholic believers. Comenius first found refuge in Poland, and for the rest of his life lived in the Netherlands. There, he was received even by René Descartes, who was willing to see very few people but was curious about Comenius’ philosophical system. Already in the first half of the 17th century, he gained European fame, with kings of Protestant as well as Catholic countries trying to persuade him to be in their service. He was influential in a number of fields, but was acknowledged most for his contribution to education. Until today he is recognized as a founder of pedagogy as an autonomous discipline (Didactica Magna), and he is considered one of the most significant, if not the largest, genius of language education – his text Janua linguarum reserata and Orbis sensualium pictus have been translated into all European and many oriental languages. He also was an excellent linguist (Novissima linguarum methodus), a pioneer of a movement whose goal was the creation of a perfect universal language (Panglottia), an important philosopher and adherent of “pansophia” (a system based on the harmony of faith, rational and sensual knowledge) as the theoretical basis for the grandiose project of non-violent social remedy (De rerum humanarum emendatione consultatio catholica). From Comenius’ non-pedagogical works, obviously the most famous is Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart. One could say that in many aspects the 20th century is reminiscent of the time of Comenius (a general crisis of values, challenges to basic values, revolutionary scientific and technical inventions, never-ending wars etc.). The book was published three times over the span of his life, first in 1623, with a revised edition in 1631 and the last, again edited, edition in 1663. Labyrinth is a poetic work abounding with lively enthusiasm and is generally considered one of the top works of Czech literature and a masterpiece of world allegoric literature based on the character of a pilgrim. For francophone readers it is worth mentioning that Labyrinth was translated into French for the first time in 1906 by Michel de Crayencour, the father of the writer Marguerite Yourcenar.

The subject matter of Comenius’ Labyrinth is simple: a young man, Pilgrim, walks through the world to understand and find “human things” before deciding on how to arrange his further life. He is accompanied by two guides – Beeneverywhere and Illusion. Along his journey Pilgrim begins to feel as if he were immersed in a labyrinth in which it is absolutely impossible to grasp the true nature of things and events. The dubious wisdom of Beeneverywhere and the rose-colored glasses of Illusion prevent him from understanding what is going on inside and around him and thus to make the right decisions. Thanks to his relentless effort and wit, Pilgrim manages several times to put the glasses aside a bit and see the true nature of things. This gives the author an opportunity to offer a merciless critique of contemporary society. Finally, the young man and his companions arrive at the Palace of Wisdom, where King Solomon reveals to him the “vanity and deception of the world”. Pilgrim decides to return to himself and to find “peace and joy” imides himself and Christ, which is what he had been looking for in vain in the world.

The edition of the Labyrinth, is published as part of the complex and ambitious project Orbis pictus or..., designed and realized by the AUDABIAC foundation. The project is closely linked to the work of J. A. Comenius. Its main aim and purpose is to become a means of communication among different nations, social classes and religions. The interactive exposition ORBIS PICTUS develops the message of Comenius and all those who believe in the force of creative will for knowledge. The exposition aims to present Comenius’ thoughts using interactive instruments and images. The project is designed as an evolutionary composition that reveals itself and is modified according to the space in which it is set up. It is like a journey through a landscape of sound and visual instruments that leads to the very center of the exposition: Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart. The thoughts of Comenius are rather represented on symbolic, on-descriptive and abstract levels. Most parts of the Labyrinth and of other instrumental scenes are directly dependent on the visitor’s creativity. The visitors themselves activate particular kinetic, visual and sound components of the exposition; they are thus aware of their co-authorship and intercommunication, something which is in absolute harmony with the pedagogical principles of Comenius.
Jiří Beneš