Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The 18th Century Art of Fireworks

Though this rare botanical specimen looks much like a Dr. Seuss plant, it is actually an 18th century roman candle masquerading as a potted plant. It is one of the more interesting images included in a 1780 DIY manual on the fabrication of pyrotechnical instruments and the construction of fireworks. This 376 page Dutch manuscript is entirely handwritten and illustrated (probably not from the same hand) and provides the crafty 18th century DIY guy with clear instructions on how to build your own fireworks spectacular. This entire manuscript from the Getty Research Library can be fully explored on the Internet Archive

The handsomely illustrated watercolor of the hand and puffy sleeve is the only human influence we see in the entire manual. I'm happy to see the use of a long match extension to safely light the rocket, however the hazardous smoke surrounding this floating arm is somewhat puzzling, not to mention suspicious. All of the illustrations are quite detailed in nature and created by someone who obviously knew a thing or two about the proper display of visual information. Their are a number of color-coded bar charts with decorative baroque headers and titles describing what must be the recipes for quantities of ingredients to create special effects. 

It amazes me to see how bright and clean this book appears considering it is nearly 225 years old. Some of the images have a gold paint on them to portray flame and gold or brass metal parts. In Fig. 70 below, the potted roman candle plant is seen again in an elaborate display.

The title page from this anonymous fireworks manual is rather uninspiring; especially in light of all these lovely watercolor images. I did want to include it however, as it is the most essential page of any book. 

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