January 2, 2016


        In honor of the New Year, I have today some images of interesting fireworks effects from the seventeenth century.  Alas, these are engravings not wood block prints, but I still think they’re pretty cool.  The first two are from a book the full title of which is Pyrotechnia, Or a Discourse of artificiall Fire workes for Pleasure, In which the true grounds of the Art are plainely and perspicuously laid down, together with sundry such Motions both straight and circular, performed by the helpe of Fire, as are not to be found in any Other Discourses of this kinde extant in any Language, Whereunto is annexed a short Treatise of Geometry with the extraction of the Square Roote to 25000 and the Cubicke Roote to 20000 performed by ocular inspection, Written by John Babington, Citisen of London.  It’s a good thing we no longer roll the blurb and the title into one!
        The interesting thing about these fireworks is that they aren’t really all about the fire.  They involve extremely complicated sets and models which are animated by fire.  The wyvern isn’t made of fire, but shoots fire out of multiple orifices, and is also designed to shoot along a cable, propelled by fire.  (Although in this particular image it looks like the thrust would be stronger pushing the creature backwards than forwards.)  The two griffins are presumably made to shoot out of their caves as if to battle one another.  What I don’t get a sense of from these sketches (not having bothered to read the accompanying text) is how big these things are. 
        The final firework creature is a much more dramatic engraving from another source, being intended to illustrate the scene rather than to guide in understanding the principles of construction.  I love the dark background and inky smoke billowing all around this fierce, fiery lion.  (Unfortunately, it isn’t a very big image and I can’t make out any of the writing down below, which might have given me an artist’s name or other information.)
        May 2016 be like these fireworks: full of beauty, magic, and light!

[Pictures: Firework wyvern, engraving by Io Droeshout(?) from Pyrotechnia by John Babington, 1635;
Firework griffins, engraving by Droeshout(?) from Pyrotechnia by Babington, 1635 (Images from Linda Hall Library);
The Reception of the King and Queen in the City of Lyon, engraving for which I can’t discover the artist or source, 1624 (Image from abeautifulbook).]

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