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Gunpowder, treason and plot: how artists have captured fireworks throughout history

In a special podcast episode we talk to Simon Werrett who has written a book on pyrotechnic arts in European history

It is Bonfire Night in the UK, an anniversary that marks the discovery of a plot organised by Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London in 1605. To celebrate, we have produced a bonus episode of The Art Newspaper Podcast taking a look at the history of pyrotechnics in art and wider visual culture. Below are the images discussed in the podcast.

In the episode, we talk to Simon Werrett, the author of the book Fireworks: Pyrotechnic Arts and Sciences in European History, and he tells our host Ben Luke about the variety of uses of fireworks over the centuries and the differing ways that artists have depicted them.

The Art Newspaper Podcast is available every Friday on our website and all the usual places where you find podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud and TuneIn. This podcast is brought to you in association with Bonhams, auctioneers since 1793 bonhams.com.

For more on this subject read Simon Werrett’s book: Fireworks: Pyrotechnic Arts and Sciences in European History, University of Chicago Press, 376pp, $58.

Unknown artist, Feu d'artifice donné à Versailles par Louis XIV. © Musée Lambinet
© Musée Lambinet

Unknown artist, Feu d'artifice donné à Versailles par Louis XIV

An image showing fireworks at The Hague on 14 June 1713 on the occasion of the Peace of Utrecht

An image showing fireworks at The Hague on 14 June 1713 on the occasion of the Peace of Utrecht

Joseph Furttenbach's Fireworks in the garden of the merchant Johann Khonn in Ulm (1645)

Joseph Furttenbach's Fireworks in the garden of the merchant Johann Khonn in Ulm (1645)

Images made in honour of the election of Ferdinand III as Holy Roman Emperor in February 1637 in Rome by Claude Lorrain

Images made in honour of the election of Ferdinand III as Holy Roman Emperor in February 1637 in Rome by Claude Lorrain

Paul Sandby's Windsor Castle from Datchet Lane on a rejoicing night (1768)

Paul Sandby's Windsor Castle from Datchet Lane on a rejoicing night (1768)

Joseph Wright of Derby's Firework Display at the Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome (La Girandola)
Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum

Joseph Wright of Derby's Firework Display at the Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome (La Girandola)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket (1875)
Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts

James Abbott McNeill Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket (1875)

Cai Guo-Xiang’s display at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China
Photo: Tim Hipps

Part of Cai Guo-Qiang’s display at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China