Comenius 1592 - 1670

Comenius 1592 - 1670

Times Between Reason and Insanity – Johannes Amos Comenius and his world

Dec 20 2020 - May 31 2021
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Exhibition commemorates the 350th anniversary from the death of the Moravian native, scholar, pedagogue and theologian of world renown John Amos Comenius (Jan Amos Komenský 1592-1670). He is one of the central personalities of Czech and European cultural memory and remains a cornerstone of the national, confessional and professional collective identity.
Since the beginning of the modern reflexion  of his work and personality, a plentiful quantity of artistic, literary and later theatre and film representations were created confirming and retroactively strengthening the historical importance  of the "Teacher of Nations".

On the occasion of the big jubilee the Centre for humanistic studies / Moravian Museum prepares an exhibition in the Riding Hall of the Prague Castle that presents Comenius in a broad context of Czech and European history of his time.

The exhibition presents a unique panorama of an epoch that shaped modern Europe, not just in terms of power politics but also giving birth to the personality of Johannes Amos Comenius and engendering his unique works on didactics that have influenced, and continue influencing, the educational systems worldwide.

Come and experience the 17th century to unfold the connections and associations of how the fundamental works of Comenius came to life.

The concept of the exhibition and its chapters


I. The Great Theatrum

For the people present here were from all over the world of languages ​​and nations, of all ages, statures, genders, states, orders and occupations. Looking at them first, I see them strangely tossing and milling around here and there as if they were swarming bees, and much stranger.
- Labyrinth of the world and paradise of the heart
 
Determining for the introductory part of the exhibition will be the emblems of the theater and the labyrinth as metaphorical images of the world. The selection of exhibits moves from "objective" models of the macrocosm and the earth (globes, maps) to the capture of the microcosm - man as an individual and as a social creature; these include alchemical and astronomical / astrological treatises, large all-embracing systems (Descartes, Hobbes, but also Kepler), philosophical works (including Ramist writings), and rich pictorial material: the capture of labyrinths (architectural, garden, natural) and various theatrical structures (in addition to "real" theaters and productions also, for instance, anatomical theaters and festivities, as well as period collections of art and curiosities structured as scenic units).
Thematic works of Comenius: Labyrinth of the world and paradise of the heart, theater plays (Diogenes Cynicus redivivus, Abrahamus the patriarch ...).
 

II. Society divided

Now every man thinketh his Babylon is beautiful, and believeth that this is true Jerusalem, which cometh not from anything but from which everything has to retreat.
— Unum necessarium
The topic of this section is references to the confessional and politically divided society of Comenius.
It reflects the atmosphere of "fear prevailing in the West", which, in addition to eschatological traumas, reflected fears of natural disasters, crop failures, epidemics, but also of the still difficult to contain Ottoman expansion. The focus of the exhibition will be the mirror-reflected attributes of the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand and the Evangelical denominations (with emphasis on the Unity of Brethren) on the other. The selection of exhibits will not be limited to old prints, but will also include works of art (paramenta, liturgical utensils), allegorical depictions, portraits and painted epitaphs. Emphasis will be placed on moments of mutual confrontation between the two camps - polemical prints, caricatures, manipulated news, pamphlets, etc. Comenius' polemical treatises and his works on chiliasm and revelations will also be placed in this context.
 

III. Europe in war and in peacetime

The defeated ones are either killed, or taken captive, or they run away.

— Orbis pictus
The third chapter will be closely related to the previous section, but will be more intimately concerned with specific historical realities. The introduction consists of allegorical images of war and peace, the content of which is the documentation of the four main war conflicts, of which Comenius was a direct and indirect witness: the Thirty Years' War, the Polish-Swedish War, the first Dutch-English War and finally the fights with the Turks in Hungary. The counterpoint will be reminders of religious reconciliations (Peace of Augsburg – the Bohemian Confession – Emperor Rudolf's Maiestatis) and the peace negotiations in Breda and especially in Münster and Osnabrück. The Peace of Westphalia will be themed here as an event that ended the devastating armed conflict, but at the same time posed a lifelong trauma for Comenius because of its political consequences. The exhibits here will consist of rich iconographic material supplemented by archival documents and examples of period military equipment. Comenius' work will evoke, on the one hand, his peace efforts (Angelus pacis), his interest in current political issues and his endeavors to influence them (e.g., Letzte Posaun über Deutschland), but also, on the other hand, his prophetic notions of the overthrow of Catholic Habsburg estates.
 

IV. Workshop of Humanity

A printing house which is alive, i.e. capable of imprinting wisdom, not on paper, but in the mind, doing it in a concise and yet comprehensive and selective way.
— Unum necessarium
This chapter is intended to provide a contrast to the two previous ones, the subject of which is confrontation and intolerance. The exhibition will metaphorically evoke a printing workshop, dominated by a printing press complemented by other authentic equipment of early modern printing offices and containing examples of book printing and book culture of the Comenius era, with emphasis on the printing houses in Kralice, in German publishing centers (Frankfurt, Leipzig) and finally, in Amsterdam. The main topic will be Comenius in his capacity of teacher and thinker of European fame. The core of the exhibition will therefore be Comenius' didactic writings and textbooks (especially multiplicates of the work Orbis pictus), but at the same time other school systems of the early modern period (Melanchton, Béza, but also Jesuits and Piarists) will be mentioned here. In this part of the exhibition, a "republic of scholars" uniting European intellectuals regardless of denominational barriers will also be presented by means of selected examples. The words of recognition that Comenius received from Catholic scholars (Valerián Magni, Bohuslav Balbín ...) will also be given space here. 
 

V. The life-long pilgrimage of JAC

So I give thanks to my God, who wanted me to be a man of desire all my life.
— Unum necessarium
This part is not intended as a static section of the exhibition, but as its main communication axis, while the above-described chapters of the exhibition will form branches from which the viewer will repeatedly return to the cross-sectional theme of the chronological and factual overview of Comenius' life and work. The purpose is to make this "obligatory" part of the exhibition as attractive and communicative as possible, i.e., to gather here, in addition to unique exhibits, the maximum of period iconographic material and three-dimensional exhibits - to avoid excess paper, reproductions and descriptiveness. The result will be a varied, structured and "streamlined" picture of the historical development bounded by the years 1592 and 1670. Against the background of the story of Comenius' life, the turbulent history of Europe in the given period will be observed. 
 

VI. Comenius in the labyrinths of memory

Having touched on the general labyrinths of the human race, should I recall my own?
— Unum necessarium
The final section of the exhibition will deal with the changing reflections of Comenius' personality and work during the three and a half centuries after his death. A separate chapter will consist of a representative selection of portraits of John Amos Comenius. Despite the fundamentally chronological layout, this part of the exhibition will be structured partly according to topics: (Comenius as a great Czech, teacher of nations, Comenius and politicians, etc.). In addition to works of art of unquestionable quality and expressive power (Štursa, Lauda, ​​Makovský, Bílek, Brožík, Mucha ...) there will also be artifacts documenting the bottom currents of the cult and, of course, documents of updates / manipulations of comeniological themes. There will also be works of a persiflage, caricaturistic or ironic nature. In addition to the artistic line, which forms the natural dominant feature of this section, adequate space will also be devoted to literary and audiovisual works.
 

Address

Prague Castle – Prague Castle Riding School (Jízdárna Pražského hradu)
U Prašného mostu 3
Praha 1 - Hradčany