Author and Historical Context

    990988_detailJohn Amos Comenius  born Jan Ámos Komenský  on March 28, 1592, Nivnice, Moravia, Habsburg domain (now in Czech Republic) and died Nov. 14, 1670, Amsterdam. He was an educator, an innovator and an idealist.

He was orphaned by age 10 and was obliged to live with his aunt in Strážnice where he attended secondary school at Přerov. He attended for two years at te Herborn Gymanisum in the Nassau and entered the University of Heidelberg.

University of Heidelberg, 1613

University of Heidelberg, 1613

He was the author of many treatises and text books that were widely read in his lifetime, but none was of greater or more lasting influence than Orbis Pictus. A member of the Protestant sect, the Unity of the Brethren, he entered the ministry during a time of religious conflict at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. s a young minister Comenius found life wholly satisfying, but the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618 and the emperor Ferdinand II’s determination to re-Catholicize Bohemia forced him and other Protestant leaders to flee. It was during a period of exile because of religious persecution that he began the writings in which he developed his philosophy of education. In Comenius’s view, an imperfect understanding of the world design, which was the work of God, let to disharmony. Morality and education were therefore intimately connected. He believed that peace and prosperity would result if a programme of education could be developed and put into effect which would lead people to understand the intrinsic order and unity off reality. Teaching methods and text-books then in use were inadequate for Comenius’s concept of education. Not only were they based on an interpretation of knowledge that he considered incorrect but they also took no account of the child’s mental development or experience. He was by no means the first to say that all knowledge must enter the mind through the senses, but he was the first to prepare a text-book based on that principle.   Orbis Sensualium Pictus, which appeared in 1657, printed by Michael Endter of Nuremberg, was an attempt to compress in a unity of pictures and text the essential knowledge of the world. Each illustration portrayed some aspect of the natural world or the organization of human society, in language simple enough for the child beginning his studies.

Objects in the illustrations were numbered and the numbers referred to the contemporary words in the text set out first in Latin followed by German.



The use of pictures as an essential element of the educational process to entice witty children’ made Orbis Pictus a landmark; for their extensive use in a text-book had been unknown before, though there had been earlier illustrated books appealing to a child’s interests.

The book was not intended to stand on its own but was part of a series which presented knowledge at increasing levels of complexity as the child’s understanding developed.

In contrast to its innovative format and educational principles, the approach to knowledge of Orbis Pictus was closer to that of the Middle Ages than the Renaissance, and some of the scientific information it contained had already been proven inaccurate. These errors did not hinder its success, however, perhaps because many educators were interested in it principally as a Latin text-book.

The first English edition appeared in 1659, translated as Visible World by Charles Hoole (1610-1667), a London schoolmaster who dated his preface January 1658. The illustrations were produced by copper engraving rather than woodcut and the English text preceded the Latin on the page. New editions, with changes in the illustrations or some alteration or updating of the text, appeared frequently in England during the next several years, then at longer intervals during the eighteenth century.

The Twelfth and final English edition, which is reproduced in this series, appeared in 1777 (with crude woodcuts replacing old engravings), but it continued to be printed in other countries until the final school edition was published in Prague in 1845.

One of the most important books in the history of education, Oribs Pictus influenced numerous text books which followed it, and echoes of its principles can still be seen in informational books for children.

Excerpts taken and pieced together from:

“English Illustrated Books for Children.” Trans. Array A descriptive companion to a selection from the Osborne Collection.. Margaret Crawford Maloney. London, Syndey, Toronto: Holp Shuppan Publishers, 1981. 23-4. Print.

John Edward Sadler, J.A. Comenius and the Concept of Universal Education (1966)



Student Name: Andreea Marin

Focusing on John Amos Comenius’s work, The Orbis Sensualium Pictus the format to deliver such research seemed only appropriate through the social network/self-publishing website WordPress. Comenius would have been in synch with this idea himself as his main purpose with his grand opus was to deliver knowledge to children of all upbringings. He believed in equality between males and females, amongst the social classes and most importantly: in a universal education.

Appropriating Comenius’s wishes into our time it is evident that he too would use the internet to make knowledge accessible by anyone who wishes. Of course, that is only an assumption based on his political and educational views.  Evidently, there will always be limitations such as countries who do not speak the same language or have no computers, however due to Library access to Internet in addition to private computer owning (comparing it to an academic essay only seen by one person), displaying this information online still remains the most public and accessible.

Working on the blog however, proved to be a thorough learning experience due to the amount of information and research which could be done on a single work.

The idea of looking further into the Orbis Pictus came from searching Early Children’s Literature as I have a keen interest in the subject area. Although prior to the Orbis there were fables, legends and fairy tales from Greek Myth to Aesop’s fables to commonly developed fairy tales within each culture, no book was created specifically for children with illustrations. The illustrations are presently key to Children’s Literature. Every Chapters, Indigo or Barns & Noble’s most colorful section filled with vibrant illustrations is the Children’s Section. Tracing back, Comenius is the very first person to create the very first Illustrated Children’s book.

As per definition, what is considered to be the first illustrated book is one which uses its images to enhance the content. Comenius’s work being a textbook accomplishes the task.

I first went to the Thomas Fisher Rare Books library where I picked up the 1777 copy of the Orbis Pictus. I examined it and photographed it (135 images were taken).

Following the 200 years anniversary of the Grimm Brothers at the Osborne Children’s Collection Library I encountered the head librarian with whom I discussed my project. She said that not only do they have facsimiles of the Orbis Pictus but they also have the 1672 copy (3rd edition) and another 1777 copy. In her words “amazingly enough, when the Empress of Japan visited, the 1672 copy of the Orbis Pictus is all she asked to see.”

Following that meeting I returned to the Osborne library and examined the books for several weeks. What came to my attention was that the 1777 copy here did not have marbled end pages but had an inscription on its hardcover on the back of a “1777.” It was then that I realized the other 1777 copy from the Fisher Library had been part of someone’s private library and had been re-bound to match all his collection. In addition the spine of the 1777 copy was fully in tact and did not contain red, black or golden tooling. According to the head librarian, they believe this copy was preserved by a family who knew its value and passed it down each generation taking maximum care of it.

The 1672 copy of course was of more interest as it was closer to the time it was first published which is why the focus is mainly on it and it is simply compared to the other copies.

In the blog itself I took advantage of the lack of restriction and I decided to cover as much ground as possible in relation to Comenius and the Orbis Pictus. The division of categories displays the different areas I explored. Books about Illustrations, biographies on Comenius and various facsimiles were obtained from Emanuel Library, E.J. Pratt Library, Thomas Fisher and Kelley.  In addition, I bought my own facsimile from of the 3rd edition so I could work on it at home in regards to content.

There are very few academic papers today focusing on Comenius and his work (of course the Orbis is not his only one) and in most Children’s Literature analysis or criticism excerpts appear on Comenius only as large as a paragraph. Many acknowledge his work and make a note of it, but due to its textbook format and one translating from Latin to (whichever language the copy is of example: Latin-German, Latin-English) with pictures next to it, it becomes less discussed as the content is not as debatable. One good example would be Seth Lerer’s book Children’s Literature from Aesop to Harry Potter which contains only 5-6 sentences on Comenius. In truth, when analysing from a literary point of view, Comenius’s work is difficult to assess.

Given more time and available researchable items, this project could cover much more academic ground. It would be interesting to examine the subject matter within the Orbis as well as the way it is presented. There are in fact religious references despite the author’s attempt to restrain from them. The way the illustrations are laid out and the distinction between the different copies in illustration content (as can be seen in the “direct comparison” post) is just as fascinating and would make an interesting in-depth study to analyse them from other non-bibliographic points of view.

The Orbis Defined

In The Children’s Literature Oxford Encyclopedia, the Orbis Pictus is defined as:

“A picture book illustrating Latin and vernacular vocabulary by COMENIUS printed in Germany in 1658, published in England in a translation by Charles Hoole in 1659 and usually credited for being the first picture book designed exclusively for children. Hoole’s translation was entitled A World of Things Obvious to the Senses. The book was for the use of children learning to read English and then, at the age of six or seven, Latin.

After an illustrated alphabet which is expressed in terms of animal or other noises each picture shows a group of numbered objects in their context, ranging from the solar system to a tailor’s shop. Then come the names of objects with descriptions. The introduction recommends that the book be freely given to children, even at home before they are put to school, ‘to delight withal as they please, with the sight of the pictures.’

            Hoole’s translation of the Orbis Pictus was often reprinted up to the 19th century. The first American edition was produced in 1810 by T. & J. Swords of New York, with illustrations by Alexander Anderson.”

Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. 388. Print.

Further Reading on John Amos Comenius

In English, the best biography of Comenius is Matthew Spinka, John Amos Comenius: That Incomparable Moravian (1943). The earliest biography is S. S. Laurie, John Amos Comenius, Bishop of the Moravians: His Life and Educational Works (1881; new ed. 1892). Otakar Odloziik wrote a brief biographical sketch, Jan Amos Komensky (1942). Two books focus on his educational reforms: Will S. Monroe, Comenius, and the Beginnings of Educational Reform (1900), and John E. Sadler, Comenius and the Concept of Universal Education (1966).

Collation, Format and Pagination

Collation and Pagination Statement

This book has vertical chain lines and gatherings of 8 leaves suggesting it is an Octavo and it is made of laid paper. It has a total of 21 gatherings of 8 leaves equalling to 168 leaves or 336 pages. Of these 336 exactly 27 pages are not numbered and 309 of them are. Each gathering is signed only up to the fourth leaf, with the exception of A and A2 which are not signed. The preliminaries include the Author’s Preface and that of the translator (in this case Charles Hoole translating from Latin/German to Latin/ English).- Jan 25, 1658

Quasi-Facsimile Title Page Transcription

JOH. AMOS COMENII | ORBIS | SENSUALIUM | PICTUS: | Hoc eft, | Omnium fundamentalium in Mundo Rerum, | & in vita Aɛtionum,| Picťura & Nomenclatura. | [rule 75 mm] | JOH. AMOS COMENIUS’s | VISIBLE | WORLD: | OR, | A Picťure and Nomenclature of all the chief Things | that are in the World ; and of Mens Employments therein, | A Work newly written by the Author in Latine | and High-Dutch (being one of his laſt  Eſſays,and the | moſt  ſuitable to Childrens capacities of any that he | hath hitherto made) and tranſlated into Engliſh, | [rule 75 mm] | By CHARLES HOOLE, M. A. | [rule 75 mm] | For the Uſe of Young Latine- Scholars. | Nihil eft in intelleɛlu, qod non prius fuit in ſenſu. Ariſt. | [rule 75 mm] |LONDON, | Printed by T. R. For S. Mearne, Book-binder | to the Kings moſt Excellent Majeſty, 1672. | [floral ornaments around text 75 mm x 135 mm]


The majority of these books were reference books from the Osborne Collection of Children’s Literature. David Bland’s book was obtained from E.J. Pratt library and the online sources were accessed from various locations. The research was mainly done in the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library and the Osborne Collection of Children’s Literature Library.

The utensils used to examine the books were the following:

Light used to see watermarks, magnifing glass, stand on which to place book and the only utensils allowed in a research library a pencil and a notebook.

Academic Sources/Works Cited:

Barton, Phyllis Settecase. Pictus Orbis Sambo. A publsihing history, check list and price guide for the story.. Sun City, California: Pictus Orbis Press, 1998. Print.

Bland, David. A History of Book Illustration. London: Faber and Faber, 1958. 154-5, 223. Print.

Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature.

Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. 388. Print.

Chester, Tessa Rose, and Joyce Irene Whalley. A Hisotry of Children’s Book Illustration. London: John

Murray Publishers with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1988. 16, 17, 59, 71, 101. Print.

Comenius, Joh. Amos, and Joh. Amos Comenius. Visible World. 3d ed. London: T.R.1672. Print.

Comenius, John Amos. Orbis Sensualium Pictus. 12th ed. London: 1777. Print.

“English Illustrated Books for Children.” Trans. Array A descriptive companion to a selection from the Osborne Collection.. Margaret Crawford Maloney. London, Syndey, Toronto:Holp Shuppan Publishers, 1981. 23-4. Print.

Person, Diane G., and Bernice E. Cullinan. “Orbis Pictus Award.” The Coninum Encyclopedia of  Children’s Literature. New York, London: 2001. 603. Print

In addition, to follow along I used the third edition facsimilie with an introduction by James Bowen who is also a great source of information on Comenius.

Direct Comparison


1777 copy (Left) 1672 Copy (Right)
12th ed. 3rd ed.

1. One of the obvious differences whilst looking at the two books is that the 1672 has an outer layer rectangle which is proof that it was pressed down heavily at the printing press. This is one of the main differences in understanding why the 1672 copy is done in metal work and the 1777 in woodcuts.  In addition metal work can achieve cross-hatching and have smaller forms of shading whereas the woodcuts are more spaced out because if wood were to be carved so thinly it would break.  To be specific the metal work is “Copper” cuts. Some sources suggest that the first version of this book was first illustrated with woodcuts, then copper and then woodcuts again.

2. As mentioned the 1777 copy is 2 cm thick whereas the 1672 copy is 4 cm thick. Thus, the pages differ for the same exact content page.

3. A main difference between the two, and the reason why the thickness is a huge difference, is due to the fact that in the 1672 copy the illustrations are on a different page from the words/definitions. In the 1777 copy however, the words and illustrations are fit in the same page.

4. As is evident from this photo, the two copies are opened at the same section. As we can observe the image itself in content for “Air” is different in the two copies.

5. In addition, on the 1672 version of the book, the words in Latin appear in Gothic/Old English writing font, different from the 1777 which maintains the same font throughout.

Bellow is another comparative photograph so one may see the difference in size between the two:

Web-Show Teachers

One particularly incredible and dedicated person to education and Latin is the Web-Show “host” under the web-name of “Evan1965.” He has uploaded 1276 videos on teaching others Latin. He has 4, 481 subscribers and a total of 680, 599 views of his videos in total. 14 (plus) of those videos are fixated on J.A. Comenius’s Orbis Pictus. His videos are not longer than 7 minutes.  “Evan 1965” teaches the Orbis as a professor would in order to teach Latin, however he does emphasize that in these contemporary times we live in, we have the most Latin texts available right at our finger tips, the only problem is very few people are left to understand the language. He mentions that Comenius’s work contains over 8000 words and he had taught it in a very effective way.

Here are two videos which I enjoyed by this Web-show teacher:  (Episode 3) (Episode 5)

Short Biographical YouTube Sketches

Having been searching for Comenius and information on the father of modern education, many videos appear on YouTube from various places. The videos are in Spanish, Italian, English and other languages which proves that even today people around the world, still understand and respect the value of Comenius’s grand work and his role in our human development history.

This is one video I was particularly fond of despite it having fewer views than the others due to the accuracy of information it presents:     <–