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Lunardi on the Thames (036r)

Lunardi on the Thames (BL L.R.301. H.3, 036r)

The mania for the hot air balloon raged through England and France in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Sensational figures like Italian aeronaut Vincent Lunardi swept through British towns and performed feats both scientific and spectacular. The balloon captured the imagination of the public, who quickly became fascinated with ballooning as a performance often tinged with the sensationalism of disaster.

In this page from Sarah Sophia’s scrapbook, Lunardi is depicted experimenting with his invention to save persons from drowning. Here, we see the juxtaposition of the Romantic depiction of Lunardi, a picture of calm above the beating waves of the Thames, with the very real ballooning disasters this machine was meant to attenuate. This print and the serenness of Lunardi’s countenance stand out when juxtaposed with clippings like “All on Fire or the Doctors disappointed, A View taken from Lord Foley’s Garden.” Considering these images side-by-side, we see how the single image of Lunardi highlights the performance of the aeronaut. Though ballooning often ended in flames, like we see in Lord Foley’s garden, the role of Lunardi and others like him was to not only invent but to perform, to give society the spectacle they craved but to do so with grace.