Earliest artworks of fireworks

"The Fireworks" January 21, 1782 by Jean Michel Moreau (French, 1741-1814)
The Fireworks” January 21, 1782 by Jean Michel Moreau (French, 1741-1814)

Fireworks captured in 1782. Very cool to see artwork capturing fireworks from so long ago. The Art Institute of Chicago’s “Art Tab” Chrome extension always displays interesting random artworks. Check out how crazy these fireworks look. The lines streaking across the sky looks like lightning!

I’m guessing these early fireworks didn’t always have a straight trajectory. The end result is really dramatic.

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What colors were these fireworks?

Did you know that fireworks used to always be just one color? Orange.

Alexis Dahl of Smithsonian Science Education Center writes:

On America’s first Fourth of July celebration in 1777, fireworks were one color: orange. There were no elaborate sparkles, no red, white, and blue stars—nothing more than a few glorified (although uplifting) explosions in the sky.

Of course, if you had been there for America’s anniversary, you still would not have seen colored fireworks. The explosions like those we see today would not be created for another sixty years when Italian inventors added in metals like strontium or barium.

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An entire book about the earliest depictions of fireworks

I found that Smithsonian article by googling: earliest artworks of fireworks
That same search also results in this intriguing book, “Incendiary Art: The Representation of Fireworks in Early Modern Europe“. You can download a PDF of the book for free!

Quickly scrolling through the book, you’ll a bunch of artwork examples of fireworks. Where is the place of Moreau’s 1782 etching in the history of fireworks in artwork?

I took the 26 plates from the first third of the book and composed this list of years: 1611, 1630, 1658, 1665, 1674, 1674, 1676, 1678, 1685, 1700, 1702, 1713, 1717, 1717, 1730, 1735, 1739, 1741, 1745, 1749, 1749, 1758, 1765, 1774, 1779, 1793.

Ok, so 1782 rates a bit further back in the list. But at least does fit in with the 18th century dates.

Here’s a few of the plates from the book

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Fireworks on the Schiessplatz, Nuremberg, June 22, 1665
Fireworks on the Schiessplatz, Nuremberg, June 22, 1665
by Georg Carl Hornung, Johann Conrad Hornung, and Johann Arnold
Courtesy public domain, The Met

I love how the squiggly vertical lines are all evenly spaced. Each firework explosion has its own space in the composition. (A bit like how in a forest of trees, each tree has it’s own area of the canopy)

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Cinquieme Journee-Feu d’artifice sur le Canal de Versailles 1676
engraving by Jean A Lepautre
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr George Collins Levey, 1879
Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

These squiggly lines look like the tunnels under the bark of Ash trees by the Emerald Ash Borer.

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"Castello S Angelo Con La Girandola"
Castello S Angelo Di Roma Con La Girandola
Published by: Nicolas van Aelst, 1579
CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, The British Museum

A shower of fireworks! From 1579!!!

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