International Museum Day: 30 Objects – A lot of Hot Air (Balloons)

12 May 2017

For International Museum Day on 18 May our Head of Collections, Alice, has chosen her top 30 objects from Mount Stuart’s Collections which we’ll bring to you throughout the Month. Ranging from books, furniture, silver-work, paintings and documentation from hundreds of years of Stuart family life, this barely scratches the surface of our Collections so make sure to plan your visit and experience it for yourself!

This bonbonniere box, for sweet treats and confectionery, has an inlaid design similar to contemporary illustrations and published engravings of the first balloon flights, possibly to commemorate one of the well-documented attempts in France in 1783.

bonbonniere balloon box

The first untethered, manned balloon flights took place in Paris in 1783, both with hot air and hydrogen balloons. A notable attempt was the hydrogen balloon flight by Jacques Charles and Nicolas-Louis Robert. On 1st December 1783, the pair successfully ascended above the Tuileries Gardens to the delight of a gathered crowd. Experiments such as theirs were a characteristic part of the Enlightenment of the 18th Century. Scientists were investigating new ways of doing things and pushing the boundaries of human capabilities. Before their manned flight, Charles and Robert had demonstrated their balloon to King Louis XVI of France and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, at Versailles. The non-human passengers included a sheep named ‘Montauciel’ or ‘Climb to the sky’.

Flights in France and England were partly scientific experiments and partly entertainment. The first such flight in England was in 1784, navigated by Vincenzo Lunardi and watched by a crowd of 150,000. After this, display flights became popular in public pleasure gardens. Also in the archive are some engravings of these amazing experiments in flight. These illustrations were intended to document, marvel at and also to satire the experimental form of transport.