Where once I was the kind of bad urban teenager who bought paper bags of fireworks from shifty kids in Chinatown dealing out of the back of their parents’ kitchens, now I’m the cranky kind of broad who worries about the neighborhood kids setting her roof on fire, and is just as glad if the day dawns overcast because fireworks scare the dog.
But overcast or clear, whether you’re a fan of blowing things up of have the cops on speed dial, here’s a great scan from BibliOdyssey of The Artillery Book (Artilleriebuch), a 500-page manuscript from 1582 of line drawings of bombs, cannons, and fireworks. BibliOdyssey proprietor peacay tells us the title page explains that the author, Walther Litzelmann,
belonged to the Bavarian Armoury or Arsenal at Ingolstadt and that the secrets of saltpeter and gunpowder production would be revealed within.
The artwork is whimsical, and it’s easy to forget that the lumpy ornamental objects are, for the most part, gunpowder-containing projectiles. (The work reminds me a bit of children’s book illustrator Peter Sís, whose gently detailed line work underlies a deep seriousness of intent.) But you can’t deny their intrinsic charm, and the calligraphy is lovely to behold even for those of us who don’t read German. It all seems appropriate for July Fourth, a bit of playacting that stands in, at our safe remove, for some serious firefighting.
Playacting, that is, unless they set my roof on fire. Get off of my lawn, you stupid kids.
(You can see the real thing at the Bavarian State Library, should you be out that way.)