Fireworks and Color in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Fireworks and Color in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Simon Werrett

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Merry-go-round with Elephant, Antoine Caron, second half of the sixteenth century

It has commonly been assumed that there were no colors in fireworks prior to the early nineteenth century. This essay argues that there were a variety of color recipes in early modern manuals on fireworks, though the nature and value of color in displays differed significantly compared to later periods. Color was used in pyrotechny in production practices, and carried alchemical, medical and other associations. Colored fire was not the principal or exclusive location of color in early modern displays, which rather gave weight to colorfully-painted scenery, decorations and costumes. That modern authors place so much emphasis on colored fire is due to the promotion of color in pyrotechny by writers working in the age of the Chemical Revolution.