Black and Gold: The Art of Pyrotechnics

Fireworks have traditionally ushered in the New Year. They are believed to have been invented during the Sung dynasty ( 960-1279 ) when they were used to chase away evil spirits and welcome good fortune. Chinese firework masters created beautiful displays of sound and light. Pyrotechnics were probably brought to Europe by Marco Polo and the Crusaders. During the Renaissance Italians developed the art of fireworks in Florence while Germans in Nuremburg concentrated on the science. They were so popular during the reign of Elisabeth I of England that she created a position for "Fire Master of England". By the 17the century firework displays had become a part of the European entertainment at public gardens. In the 1870's James McNeil Whistler painted the fireworks in the night skies over Cremorne Gardens in London. His Nocturne in Black and Gold- The Falling Rocket was unusual for the time in that it concentrated on atmosphere over detail. What is now regarded as a masterpiece was described at the time by art critic John Ruskin as "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face".