This image comes from a text called, Illustrations of Natural Philosophy, which depicts the many properties of air. The central images feature a rendering of all of the highest mountain ranges in the world and a tiny hot air balloon above them. The caption below the pictures lists the elevations of the mountains and the height of Mr. Green's balloon. The invention of hot air balloons allowed human beings to fly above the highest places on earth.
Copyright 2009, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Illustrations of Natural Philosophy
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Printing ContextImage appeared in a book of natural philosophy.
The fascination with ballooning had been triggered by the efforts of the Montgolfier brothers in France. In June 1783, they had launched the first ever flight, carrying a sheep, a cock, and a duck, in front of 60,000 spectators and the Royal Family. On October 15, 1783, they launched the first ever human flight, this time in front of 100, 000 spectators and the Royal family. Numerous flights soon followed, both in France, England, and elsewhere.
Associated PlacesThe Montgolfiers launched their first balloons at Varsailles; Vincento Lunardi ascended from London. By its nature, however, balloon flights soon proliferated across both countries, as well as much of Europe and America.
Associated TextsNumerous books and pamphlets suggested means of steering balloons. A pamphlet entitled Thoughts on the Farther Improvement of Aerostation, or the Art of Travelling in the Atmosphere (1785), suggested that they should adopt “an oblong form, constructed in such a mannerthat it may be sharpened at one end, in order to divide the resisting fluid . . . while the tail steers its course” (12, 15). Another publication entitled The Air Balloon urged that it be designed “in the form of a fish” with wings “to be made of the opurest elastic steel ever wrought in this country, and the whole . . . to be to be worked and directed by a person who is going up in a basket attached to the machine” (24).
SubjectAn illustration in a book of natural philosophy that demonstrates the many properties of air such as air pressure, floatation, hot air balloons. It also shows that the elevation achieved in a hot air balloon surpasses the highest mountains on earth.
ThemeThis image from a book on natural philosophy focused primarily on scientific equipment associated with the study of air, but itrs inclusion of both an image of a balloon in the upper right-hand corner and, in the centre, a dramtic illustration highlighting the ability of balloon’s to reach higher heights than even the tallest mountains, an achievement that was widely hailed as something that would make groundbreaking research on the nature of air possible.
SignificanceBy their very nature, balloons coincided with well-known experiments on air being conducted by scientists such as Joseph Priestley and Henry Cavendish. Montgolfier cited Priestley’s Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air (1774) as an inspiration for his discovery of the balloon; Cavendish, whose discovery of the specific gravity of hydrogen helped to facilitate ballooning, supplied an aeronaut named John Jeffries with empty beakers to retrieve air samples. The October 1785 edition of Monthly Review insisted that “from the rapid progress which this infant art has already made, it may reasonably be hoped that the time is approaching, when aerostatic vehicles will be fitted out on purpose for philosophical discoveries, for ascertaining many of the general laws of nature, and exploring the productions of the unknown regions of the atmosphere.”
FunctionThis illustration, by its very nature, highlighted ballooning’s important role within the most advanced research on the nature of air in this period.
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10 December 1850