'The Wanderer in the Labyrinth': New exhibition charts Komensky's life and work

18-10-2007

The 17th Century Czech philosopher and scholar Jan Amos Komensky, or Comenius, is an iconic figure in this country, and is famous throughout the world for his influential work. Know as 'The Teacher of Nations', his name has been adopted by UNESCO for one of its most prestigious awards, and perhaps more fittingly, by the National Comenius Pedagogical Library in Prague. That's where a new exhibition opened this week, aiming to acquaint students and other users of the library with Komensky's life and work - with a special focus on his role as a teacher.

The exhibition is titled "Poutnik v Labyrintu", or "The Wanderer in the Labyrinth", and refers to one of Comenius' most celebrated works, "The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart". Made up of digital photocopies of the library's collection of Commenius manuscripts, the exhibition covers two floors, and is free of charge for anyone wishing to visit. It is designed as a walk through Comenius' life and work - and it is hoped that just as in Comenius' text, the wanderer emerges with an enlightened and selfless approach to life, so the visitors to the exhibition might take away some personal inspiration from Komensky's life and deeds.

Alena Skodova is from the National Pedagogical Library. She took me to one of the exhibits, picturing two copies of the same text from the 17th and 19th centuries.

"I like this picture especially. It's from Komensky's work 'Orbis Pictus', and it's a textbook for children, the first one that was illustrated. This one is from the 19th century, and it has a colour picture. The interesting thing about it is that here in the original, they used the 16th century printing room, and here they use 19th Century technology for Komensky's text from the 17th Century."

Technological advances continue to be applied to Commenius' works in the modern day. The library is currently in the middle of a project of digitalising its vast array of Commenius manuscripts so that they are easily accessible for today's readers. One manuscript survives from 1638, and was actually printed in Comenius' own lifetime.

So what can visitors gain from the exhibition? Alena Skodova again:

"Children here learn about Komensky in primary schools of course, and they know him as 'The Teacher of Nations'. They know his motto 'Schola Ludus', which means 'school as play', which means education methods that are not rigid. Komensky thought school shouldn't be a rigid institution. So they know Komensky from primary school, and now they can learn about his life and work, about what kind of a man he was. The exhibition was conceived as a big question, 'Who was Komensky?' Was he a thinker, was he an educator, was he a philosopher? The answer of course is that he was all three."

18-10-2007