Happy New Year!

Posted in opinion pages by Editor on January 1, 2012

A VIEW of the FIRE-WORKES and ILLUMINATIONS at his GRACE the Duke of RICHMOND’S at WHITEHALL and on the River Thames on Monday 15 May 1749. Performed by the direction of Charles Fredrick Esq.

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This image was used for Simon Werrett’s article “Fireworks: The Power of Pyrotechnics,” which appeared in History Today, volume 60 (November 2010).

Souvenir fan of the Royal Fireworks, hand-coloured etching on paper, with ivory sticks, 1749 (London: British Museum)

Organized to mark the signing of the treaty at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, which ended the War of Austrian Succession, a fireworks display in Green Park on 27 April 1749 proved disastrous as a stray rocket set ablaze one of the pavilions and killed a number of spectators. Far more successful was Handel’s musical contribution.

The print shown above documents fireworks from the following month. Pictorially, it fixes in time these bursts of color that are otherwise so fleeting. It asks us to hover just a bit longer in these moments of temporal suspension — and with such vibrant joy. Perhaps an appropriate way to usher one year out and another in. And if the print piques your curiosity about the history of fireworks, you’ll just need to get a copy of Werrett’s book, Fireworks: Pyrotechnic Arts and Sciences in European History. All the best for a magnificent 2012! -CH

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